Starting today, year-old Two Roads Brewing of Stratford, CT is distributing its beer in NY. (This is exactly a week after Bell’s started distributing its beer in NY.)
The founders say the name is taken from the Robert Frost poem The Road Not Taken and since two of the founders worked together previously at Rolling Rock and Pabst the “road less traveled” has to be the opposite of the “fizzy yellow beer,” as Stone Brewing’s Greg Koch famously puts it.
But can Two Roads truly be considered craft beer?
According to an article in the latest Yankee Brew News Two Roads already has a staff of 32 in a 60,000 square foot former factory building, producing 80,000 barrels of beer. They built out extra capacity that 11 contract breweries are using (including Evil Twin, Stillwater, and Omnipollo – actually these are more like gypsy brewers, but that’s ok) so they will have capacity to grow.
This is all part of the business plan to become a craft brewer created by the four founders and a “handful of investors.” (Apologies, but Pabst, Rolling Rock, and Labatts beers are not craft beers, no matter what Brad and Clement’s bios say.) The head brewer, Phil Markowski, has some cred at least, having brewed previously at the New England Brewing micro and Southampton Publick House, both of which produced pretty good beer.
But “Not for them a brewpub or smallish craft brewery,” says Jack Kenny in the YBN article. They built a fully-formed “craft brewery” from the start.
What does this mean for craft beer? Two deals struck (or at least launched) in two weeks by beer distributors to bring new “craft beers” to the NY market? Two Roads by Manhattan Beer Distributors and Bell’s with Union Beer.
Is this the beginning of the end for craft beer, that many people have been predicting for years? Meaning if someone can literally create and successfully execute a “craft beer” business plan, does that change everything? Up to now craft breweries started small and depended on the success of the first few beers they made to build up.
Perhaps this was just a matter of time, and inevitable. Craft beer is the only segment of the beer market to grow market share over the past few years. It seems logical industry veterans such as Brad and Clement (and maybe some of their investors) would want to move into it. Two Roads Brewing even offers some variations of typical craft brew flagships and plans to brew using indigenous yeast harvested from the Two Roads property (6.5 acres of land around the old factory building). Which all sounds pretty cool.
More “traditional” microbreweries have also been trying to align themselves with the craft brewing trend, some of them more or less successfully. Bell’s Brewery certainly fits into this category. But is Bell’s really craft beer, either? Sam Adams isn’t.
Even this is not the same as someone starting a big craft brewery from scratch, instead of starting small and growing it based on the success of its quality beer, which the microbreweries did by copying European styles. Nor is such a big investment with a business plan such as the one behind Two Roads the same way most craft breweries have been started…at least up to now.
[But how is the beer Two Roads produces? I don’t know yet, I’m in MA this week on vacation. I will let you know.]
The American craft beer trend to world domination started in 1979 when Jimmy Carter legalized home brewing. But it gained world domination through industrious home brewing craftsmen, like Shaun Hill, Sam Calagione, and Greg Koch, not through improved industrial production methods, which is what Two Roads seems to be all about.
Can these two things really be combined, either retrospectively like Bell’s and Boston Beer Co? Or planned for in advance like Two Roads?
What will be the impact on existing NY craft brewers such as Captain Lawrence, Barrier, Grimm’s, Singlecut, Peekskill, Newburgh, Kuka, Keegan, Defiant, etc.?
Will us craft beer drinkers embrace these new business oriented in origin more mass produced brews? Or is “industrial craft beer” simply an oxymoron and Two Roads lead to nowhere?