Why David Walker Shared an Optimistic Outlook For Craft Beer’s Future

David Walker is more than happy to say he’s a village idiot when it comes to having a positive outlook for the craft beer industry despite what the numbers say.

The veteran co-owner of Firestone Walker Brewing spoke to the crowd as an opening keynote speaker at this year’s California Craft Beer Summit this past Tuesday in Sacramento.

“What about the future? I think the future is bright,” he said to the members of the California Craft Brewers Association to kick off its first in-person conference since 2019. “I’m an entrepreneur so I’m gonna do that anyway.

“(Fellow founder) Adam (Firestone) and I, we believe in our very core and bones when we talk about this, we believe in beer.”

Walker spoke before BA Economist Dr. Bart Watson took the stage to discuss the stagnant market at this point in the industry and even some downturn in the California market, especially with on-prem and draft sales.

But Walker admitted he knows the numbers but wanted to encourage the brewers of California and across the country. Although a large established brand which may see nearly half a million in production barrelage this year, he said it’s still a local brewery’s gain at this time.

“Beer has been the social lubricant of civilization since the beginning of time. It’s not going away,” he said. “More importantly, for 99% of the craft brewers in America, it’s the enduring model.

“Brewers for centuries have been making beer locally for their regions. Fresh, affordable, high quality, and delivering it to their friends. That is the model. And frankly, that’s the model of 99% of craft brewers in America. It’s an enduring model.”

When Walker and Firestone debuted in 1996, Walker contends that big beer controlled beer culture.

“And yes, they were jerks to us, but the fact is, they kept the beer business healthy,” Walker said. “They invented cold chain, they invented unbelievable rotational expectations from the consumers. Folks like Anheuser-Busch built breweries all over the country, to get fresh beer to consumers. The principles were sound.”

That isn’t the case anymore.

“Nowadays, I think those organizations are so buried in that sort of pitch battle with total beverage alcohol,” Walker said. “For us to think that beer culture is at their heart, it now belongs to us. We are beer culture now and we’re in charge of curating it.

“We need to be thinking like Scotch whisky makers, like the French Champagne makers, like Mexican distillers, we need to own who we are, which is great, great American craft brewers who change the world of beer.”

Think about the fidelity of your consumer relationship, he said.

“You’ve got the brewer, who conceived the brewery, likely is brewing the beer … if you’re lucky, they’re serving the beer, and they might even know your family,” Walker said. “That relationship is unbreakable. You cannot get between that brewer and that consumer, and that is the relationship with 99% of the brewers in America.”

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