Beer Me: 5 Beer-Related Lessons For Associations

In honor of the Brewers Association's big shindig, the Great American Beer Festival, here are some beer-battered lessons you can take back to your meetings.

Like a perfectly poured IPA at a packed-but-not-claustrophobic brewpub, the beer industry is on top of its game.

After a few years of relatively flat sales, the industry is bouncing back — up 1.9 percent over the first eight months of this year, according to the Wall Street Journal — with craft beers leading the way.

In honor of this week’s sold-out Great American Beer Festival, here are some thoughts from the craft beer world that might translate to your own association:

1. Build a Community From Nothing

Charlie Papazian, the president of the Brewers Association, says the inspiration for the first association he started, the American Homebrewers Association, was the need for community. “In the late 1970s when the first microbrewers emerged, there were many tens of thousands of homebrewers scattered around the country. This was before the internet, before faxes, [people used] a telephone or the U.S. Postal Service,” he explained to CNBC. “So there was not a sense of community like there is today.” Many of those homebrewers are still around today — and the association likely helped.

I credit craft beer from small producers with helping beer reclaim its place at the dinner table and evolved it to become, deservedly so, a more respected part of the food arts world.

2. Don’t Become a Fad

Papazian says the industry weathered a bubble in the early 2000s, but came out on the other side stronger, in part because it stuck to its message. “There were a lot of micro-breweries [during the era],” he told the network, “and interest in the beers was taking off and a lot of investment people got involved, and people were getting into the business for the wrong reasons. They figured they could make some money off of it in the short term. But when you get into the beer business, it’s a long-term proposition.” The lesson? Stick to your guns.

3. You Are Your Audience

When beer sales took a nosedive, the main reason cited was a decline in sales to the main audience — blue-collar males in their early 20s. In spots like North Dakota, where blue-collar jobs are on the upswing, so is beer consumption, according to the Wall Street Journal. But what’s given the industry a bounce has been craft sales, which have helped diversify the audience for beer. While people drink less craft beer than they might Miller Lite, they’re willing to savor it more. “I credit craft beer from small producers with helping beer reclaim its place at the dinner table and evolved it to become, deservedly so, a more respected part of the food arts world,” Julia Herz, the Brewers Association’s craft beer program director, told the Huffington Post.

4. Make Your Competitors (And Yourself) Better

If you’ve noticed a general improvement in the quality of beer over the years, you’re not alone. Craft brewers believe they’ve played a huge role in improving the overall quality of beer on the market, but now the challenge is to keep it up. “There still is room for our industry to grow,” Steve Kurowski, marketing director for the Colorado Brewers Guild, recently told the Denver Post. “I don’t think the number of brewers is going to cause a bubble to pop. The biggest risk brewers face is brewing a quality beer. The bar is higher for everybody.” Despite push-back from large brewers, the craft brewers think they’re up to the challenge.

5. Throw An Awesome Party

The Great American Beer Festival, taking place October 11 to 13 in Denver, will host a massive beer competition — the largest commercial beer contest in the world. The Great American Beer Festival Competition hosts 673 breweries from 48 states showing off 4,300 beers, according to the Brewers Association’s Hertz. That’s a 10 percent increase from last year, and the festival, in its 31st year, is a huge hit, complete with a mobile app in which attendees can leave tasting notes. Good luck getting a ticket, though — it’s sold out!

What’s your favorite craft beer? Let us know in the comments.

(photo by spli/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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