How One Company is Changing the Craft Brewing Game

Source: Thinkstock
Source: Thinkstock

The rise of craft breweries is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds. In 2014, the number of craft breweries grew by 19%, with 615 new brewery openings and only 46 closing their doors. Today, there are 3,464 breweries across the country, with 3,418 of them classified as craft breweries. Budweiser might have debuted its one-minute Super Bowl ad denouncing craft brews and all of their fans, but the rise of the microbrew industry isn’t going away any time soon.

The production of smaller batches of beer is also claiming a larger share of the market, according to the Brewers Association, the trade association that represents small and independent American craft brewers. (Just a few are listed in the graphic below.) Last year, craft brews accounted for 11% of sales volume, an increase from 7.8% in 2013 and just 5% in 2010. Retail value in 2014 was $19.6 billion, a 19.3% share of the $101.5 billion beer industry in America, and a 22% increase from 2013.

That rise is evidently fueling the dreams of other young would-be brewers, as a number of colleges have begun to offer certifications and even four-year degrees in brewing processes. More than a dozen colleges are offering programs now, with the potential for more than 40 programs in the coming years.

Just as craft breweries as a whole have seemingly sprung up everywhere, so has a do-it-yourself attitude about brewing. According to data collected for 2013 by the American Homebrewers Association, there are at least 1.2 million homebrewers in the United States, who collectively produce more than 2 million barrels of beer per year.

While most of those brewers have been content to research on their own and compile the list of ingredients for the beers they’d like to try, a new company is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign that could simplify the brewing process for novice and experienced brewers alike. The company is called Kit Lab, and is the brainchild of Ryan Sanders, owner of beer-brewing supplier Better Beer Kits. The existing company distributes brewing supplies, including kits and equipment, but the recently-devised Kit Lab takes the process one step further by providing an outlet for existing brewers who want to make money off of their creative recipes.

Kit Lab launched its Kickstarter campaign in April, and seeks to sell beer kits while also giving a cut to the authors of the recipes that are sold. The campaign says, “We’ve got some great experience with packing, shipping, and creating high quality beer kits that we will apply directly to Kit Lab. In fact, if Kit Lab is funded, we plan to just convert Better Beer Kits into a seller account on Kit Lab and focus 100% on the marketplace.”

For every gallon kit sold, the author of that recipe will receive $1, paid for the entire time the kit is listed for sale. Authors retain full rights to their recipes, and can choose to take them down at any time. The advantage is that home brewers can search for unique kits they haven’t tried before, and authors who have invested time and energy into creating the brews have a chance of making money off of them. It might not be the same dream as opening up their own microbrewery, but the startup costs in this case are free.

For those who maybe aren’t brewing geniuses or just don’t want the hassle of finding the perfect combination of ingredients, Kit Lab will act like the hopped-up version of Plated, Blue Apron, and other companies that deliver ready-to-make meals to your doorstep. The company also seeks to solve two of the main problems founder Ryan Sanders has with the home-brewing process. One is that finding all of the ingredients can be a chore, especially if you’re looking to add unique elements.

The other is that purchasing the products on your own often means there are leftover products that either won’t be fresh for the next batch, or won’t fit the next recipe you want to try. Kit Lab’s “click to brew” process sends all of the ingredients, pre-measured for the right proportions, Sanders told Eater. Kit Lab’s suppliers can ship ingredients to the distribution center within 24 hours, meaning that ingredients are sourced quickly and are as fresh as possible.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Sanders said that more than 500 recipes have been pledged already, if the site is able to meet its $44,995 fundraising goal. If all goes according to plan, the company will be able to start shipping orders by July 2015. Sanders said the recipes should be manageable for even the most novice brewers, though he advised reading the directions to make sure customers understand the process they’ll have to complete. If the company receives the startup costs, a second phase could be to include a beginner’s guide for any recipe, Sanders said.

Kit Lab is breaking the mold when it comes to home brewing, because it’s giving accomplished experimenters the ability to make some money off of their investments, while not dealing with the startup costs of opening their own brewery. If it’s just a hobby, there’s now a way to bring in some extra cash for it. Of course, the authors will have to be ok with their recipes being out there for the world to see, meaning there probably isn’t much incentive for existing breweries to release their recipes. (Sanders is hopeful that some microbreweries might publish their recipes for greater national reach.)

For most people who are experimenting with brews in their garage on the weekends and already posting recipes online, this might be the perfect combination of community and profits. And for those who were deterred by the number of ingredient errands you would otherwise have, brewing has now become (almost) as easy as the click of a mouse.

Follow Nikelle on Twitter @Nikelle_CS

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