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Drink614: Craft beer defies traditional business model, collaboration key

People sometimes seem surprised to see breweries working together to brew beers. Seventh Son, for example, teamed up with Odd 13 out of Colorado, to brew a Hazy Belgian IPA.  

While the results of the collaborative efforts can often be mixed, the concept is nothing new. At least not to the craft beer world.

To those of you just discovering the world of craft beer, it’s important to understand that this is a business unlike any other.

The reason craft beer has been successful is because craft brewers have long supported each other.

During a massive hop shortage that threatened to strangle the life from numerous breweries around the country about a dozen years ago, Boston Beer Company of Sam Adams fame, happily sold their hop reserves at cost. Other brewers like Great lakes, and Bell’s did the same.

In the business world, this kind of thing is counter intuitive. You leverage your ability to corner the market on supplies in order to crush your competition.

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If you sell stock to them in a shortage you sell it at a preposterous markup, and laugh your way to the bank while they slip into debt.

That’s not the case in craft beer.

A few years ago, at a brewing convention here in Ohio, Jim Koch, of Boston Beer Company, reminded brewers to stay true to that collaborative spirit.

Unity is what helped the craft beer industry grow, and unity is what allows all the tiny brewers to hold off obliteration at the hands of AB Inbev, the Belgium-based conglomerate that owns Miller, Budweiser, Busch, Michelob, Stella, Modelo, and a number of other brands accounting for almost a third of the global beer market share.

Collaboration beers are nothing new.

Stone has collaborated with small breweries from around the world for two decades now, and Sierra Nevada has helped smaller breweries gain national exposure by distributing mixed 12 packs of collaboration beers through the Beer Camp series.  

When Avery Brewing Company and Russian River found they were both brewing a beer called Salvation, they decided to collaborate on a mashup version of the two beers, and package it as “Collaboation not Litigation” Ale.

No, it’s not good for business in the traditional sense , but craft beer defies the traditional business model, and that’s why it’s so much fun.

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