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Craft beer embraces quality over quantity

There are few, if any, industries outside of brewing where a large company will protect a potential competitor's trademark, return it to them for free and encourage them to take advantage of the resurgent market and get back to work. That's what happened with Samuel Adams and New Albion Brewery a few years ago (New Albion is back in production after being closed 30 years). Founded as a craft brewery in 1976, New Albion helped kick-start the craft brew revolution, but couldn't grow and closed just five years later. Sam Adams' owner, Jim Koch, dug the beer so much he bought the brand and the recipe and did his own spinoff with former New Albion owner Jack McAuliffe. When the beer was a success at the 2012 American Beer Festival, Koch did what any business person would do, he returned the brand to the founder and said, "Get back in the game."
Seriously.
If a movie ended like that it would be trite. If you're not familiar with the New Albion Ale story, this is a more detailed summary, and this is an even more detailed one.
There are a thousand possible reasons Koch returned the brand (which is back in distribution), but the one that is the most elegant gets to the heart of the craft and homebrew movement: Brewing now is about the beer and nothing else. This is how the new beer barons, such as they are, are likely to operate. Koch purchased the brand just to keep it out of a megabrewery's hands and returned it to McAuliffe's daughter at the height of the craft beer boom.


The trend that brewers have identified, and that many other industries are slowly coming to recognize is Americans are moving toward a less stuff, better stuff mentality. By the late1800s, everyone was impressed with how plentiful America was and how efficiently machines made our world run. We could make lots of stuff, and make it inexpensively, and ship it all over the country ate increasingly record speeds. Budweiser, although it seems silly to say now, succeeded because it could make the most, best beer. According to some historians, the race to constantly tweak the brewing process, to make more for less, occupied the better part of human history. The megabreweries were the logical result of that race. It is only recently we have begun to consider whether this was a race worth winning.
McAuliffe was among the handful of people who thought it would be a worthwhile project to wrest the craft of brewing from the mechanics of it. Koch was another one. So was, Sam Calagione. As intrigued as the 19th century beer barons were by the possibility of being able to sell beer to everyone, the new beer barons are captivated by the notion of elevating the beverage's world wide palate appeal. But, more than that, it is as if they seek to draw a line between those who emphasize the former over the latter.

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