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The Wall Street Journal has a story about the growing and thriving craft beer industry, suggesting that craft brewers such as Sierra Nevada are at an important pivot point - moving beyond their initial markets, opening new breweries in often far-away locations, and facing the challenges that come with such growth.

Sierra Nevada's "million barrels a year may not quite rival the nearly 100 million produced annually by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the world's largest brewer, but it's a long way from the 10,000 or so Sierra was putting out in the early years," the Journal writes, and now the California-based brewer is about to open a new $110 million facility in North Carolina that will enable it to expand its reach and sales.

"Other craft brewers have seen their flagship brews become corner-store staples from one coast to another and, like Sierra, are growing apace," the story says. "Fort Collins, Colo.-based New Belgium will soon make its famous Fat Tire at a second, 18-acre site in Asheville, N.C. Another Colorado brewer, Oskar Blues, maker of Dale's Pale Ale, has a plant in Brevard, N.C. Stone Brewing Co., headquartered in Escondido, Calif., just announced a crowdsourced campaign to fund an East Coast brewery, as well as plans for a brewpub in Berlin. Meanwhile, Northern California's Lagunitas Brewing Company is building in Chicago, owner Tony Magee's hometown and a transportation hub.

"Now, instead of convincing the public that good beer can come in tiny batches, the challenge is proving that it can be produced in quantity without losing its soul. And keeping these flagship craft brews consistent across millions of barrels requires another sort of creativity … For some beer geeks, that's a problem. The hippest bartenders in brewing meccas like Denver and Portland, Ore., observe an unofficial law: They only serve beer from breweries they can see from their front door. But in less saturated locales, the growth of breweries like Sierra Nevada is welcome news."
KC's View:
Funny that this story came out this weekend, since I spent part of it at the annual Portland BrewFest. (Hey, I was working. I was sacrificing part of my weekend in service of the MNB readership. Tough job, but somebody has to do it…)

It is amazing how much energy there was there - and some amazing beers. I think my favorite may have been Shake, which tasted like beer mixed with a great chocolate milk shake, from the Boulder Beer Co. (A lot of folks agreed me, based on the lines and the buzz.) I also liked Young Franken Stein, a "young lager" from Oregon's Golden Valley Brewery (extra credit for the brewer for coming up with a movie-related name); Breakfast Blend IPA from Klamath Basin Brewing Co in Oregon; and Witty Moron Beer, a wheat beer from California's Stone Brewing Co. (I think I also liked Witty Moron because it made me think I'd be happy with that on my tombstone…)

Anyway, it was a great time. I think the Journal piece is correct in pointing out a potential industry problem, but I don't think - based on the culture that I saw on display in Portland over the weekend - that we're anywhere near the corporatization of the craft beer business.