Recently, Rhode Island has seen a couple breweries pulling distribution out of the state. This happens somewhat regularly, but it’s interesting to look at the specific breweries that do it and their reasons for doing it. While my last post was about breweries being bought up by larger breweries/companies or merging with other small breweries, this one is going to take on those who remain independent, but are still growing in both popularity and brewing capacity.
I’ll start off with the first brewery to pull out of Rhode Island that really sent some shock waves through the state – Allagash. They pulled out of Rhode Island a little over a year ago. It was shocking to see that a brewery from New England would pull out of a fellow New England state, a state that gave them good business and loved their product. Allagash was going through some growing pains at the brewery. They were expanding distribution while also expanding brewing capacity. The problem was, however, that they expanded their distribution prior to having the additional capacity to keep up with demand. People were upset, though the rumor was it would only be for about a year. Luckily, they were right. Because many of their beers are high alcohol, beer stores and bars stocked up and their beers remained on the shelves throughout the year, not going bad. The whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth. You see, they were expanding distribution to places like Chicago and Seattle. I understand the business aspects. You gotta send the beer where you can make money. It’s simple economics. However, rather than holding off on distributing to city 3,000 miles away until their production could be ramped up when the brewery expansion was complete, they pulled out of states that had seen their beers for years. Not only that, but they pulled out of local states. New England is a small region. It’s made up of six states that, together, are smaller than most other states. Beer from New England is local beer to me. I get annoyed when breweries ignore the local market to distribute to places farther away, as I prefer to support local breweries and local businesses (the places where I buy beer).
The Allagash story ended well. After all, Allagash kind of has a niche that few breweries fit. They make mostly Belgian-style beers, but they get creative about them. They don’t have the standard American brewery offerings as their year-round or flagship beers. That brings me to a brewery that does have those standard styles as their flagship – Dogfish Head. Dogfish Head recently announced they were pulling out of four states – Wisconsin, Tennessee, Indiana, and, of course, Rhode Island. They also pulled out of the Canadian and United Kingdom markets entirely. Rhode Island has been good to Dogfish Head. There have been yearly Dogfish Head beer dinners at Julian’s and other restaurants. They received a ton of attention at the beer festivals held in the state, especially Beervana. They saw huge crowds at beer tastings at Nikki’s Liquors. They’re also the favorite brewery of many in the area (they are actually one of my favorite breweries). You see, they aren’t making enough product to keep up with the demand (a problem many breweries would love to have). But they expanded distribution to get their product out there. They obviously pulled out of their smallest markets, but I have a feeling Rhode Island is only a small market simply because of the size of the state. The problem here, however, is the regular offerings from Dogfish Head. If they ever choose to come back to these states, they may have lost some customers. Their flagship 60 Minute IPA is a standard American IPA. The style is one of the most common styles that pretty much every American brewery has one. This is a great time for another brewery to step in and gain some ground in those four states. Their second most popular beer, 90 Minute IPA, is also a common style these days. Rhode Island is unique in that it’s a tiny state. We’re only a short drive from Massachusetts or Connecticut where we can go and buy some Dogfish Head. The only people who will do that, though, are the serious beer geeks who will seek it out. The people who tend to buy their regular beers from their regular liquor store won’t do that. I also prefer to support my local liquor store rather than cross the border. So should they come back, they may have a hard time selling their beer and getting tap lines at local bars, especially if the regulars start drinking another IPA that they happen to prefer.
Great Divide is another brewery that is pulling out of Rhode Island. I can honestly say that I won’t miss it. They had been one of my favorite breweries, but the distributor here did not give them any real attention. I can’t remember the last time I saw fresh bottles of Titan IPA. So, for them, it will almost be like it always has.
So with this news of breweries pulling back distribution also comes news that breweries are exporting more beer outside the country. This doesn’t make one bit of sense to me. While I can understand why some breweries choose to skip over certain states because of crazy labeling laws or to enter certain markets because they’re huge beer markets, I cannot understand why a brewery would send their beer across the country, or even outside the country, when they won’t distribute to their local market. I don’t have as big a problem with breweries who are just starting out (see Hill Farmstead or Pretty Things, who both distributed to Philadelphia before nearby areas). I mostly have problems with breweries pulling out of nearby states. I would much rather support Dogfish Head than breweries from California, but they don’t seem to want or need my support.