The geniuses at Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas finally bit the bullet. When the graphic to the right popped up in my news feed this week, I was elated. Shiner beer was finally cleared to enter New York state.
The brewers of one of my favorite beers, Shiner Bock, made their announcement last week, and over the weekend bars in New York City were pouring their first pints.
Now, truth be told, Shiner Bock isn’t the golden ring of beers. It’s produced by Gambrinus, the 10th largest brewer in the nation. I think of it as Texas’ Genny, Saranac or Yuengling. Shiner beers are blue-collar beers that a guy from Texas in a big hat drinks after a long day drilling for oil or driving cattle. Further, it’s a solid regional beer that has grown into a national brand. They have stayed true to brewing a quality product through their coast-to-coast expansion.
I think that Shiner’s expansion to New York was inevitable, but surprising in that it happened this quickly. Rather than condense his words, I’m going to quote from a post at Brew York written by Chris O’Leary:
To start, in order for a brewery to distribute and sell its beers here, the brewery and beers must be registered with the New York State Liquor Authority. Registration of a brewery and its beers costs a pretty nice chunk of change – $10,000 in bond, plus a couple hundred dollars per beer brand. In addition, they have to enter into a costly legal process to finalize a deal for an in-state distributor to receive their beer. To some brewers, especially the smaller ones, this is not money well-spent. But it’s especially not worth it if they can’t make enough beer for them to ship to New York.
Once a brewery does decide to distribute in New York, keeping up with demand is the bigger hindrance that they have to consider. Even though New York City has a very modest rate of craft beer consumption compared to “beer havens” like Denver and Portland, it’s the largest city in the country, making it the largest craft beer market in the country. The cost to produce enough beer to meet the demands of a market this big is daunting even for larger breweries like Colorado’s New Belgium, who is scouting locations for a second brewery on the East Coast that would likely have to open before they could meet the demand of large markets like New York, Philadelphia, and New England (Jared’s note: They are now brewing in Asheville, N.C.). Great Lakes, an Ohio craft brewer whose beers are widely available Upstate, registered their beers with the State Liquor Authority, but opted not to distribute in the New York City market at the time because of the brewing capacity it would demand.
It’s not just brewing capacity, of course. A brewer may have the capacity to meet New York City’s demand, but at what cost to other markets? Would they have to pull out of other markets or limit their shipments to smaller markets, upsetting consumers who are already used to having access to their products? Brewers like Stone, Avery, and Dogfish Head pulled out of some markets last year because they had spread themselves too thin to meet the growing demand of their key markets. It was a difficult decision that led to outcry (and eventually, acceptance) from beer geeks in places like Wisconsin, Indiana, and Connecticut.
I’m glad that Gambrinus took the chance, and I’m hopeful that New York state will one day relax its laws. Hopeful, but not optimistic.