Anyone that follows craft beer in Cincinnati knows that on Monday August 7, 2017, Blank Slate Brewing closed their doors for good. This came out of nowhere and without an official announcement, we were left to speculate.
I couldn’t believe that Blank Slate closed and I wanted to know why. There was no way that Scott LaFollette, owner of Blank Slate Brewing, closed because of financial reasons. Craft beer is too popular to run out of money. So it had to be something else, right?
But then on Thursday, Scott released an official statement. It was financial. The brewery that he opened, built and ran with a small staff had to close because there wasn’t enough money to keep it going. Six years of hard work just wasn’t enough to make his dream come true. It’s sad but it is very true.
Yes, Blank Slate Brewing closed and it’s hard to think that is even possible in a “booming” industry like craft beer. But it’s true and I think we all had something to do with Blank Slate closing.
Blank Slate Brewing: A Brief History
Scott opened Blank Slate Brewing in 2012. This was years before the big explosion of craft breweries. In fact, there were only a handful of breweries in Cincinnati at that point compared to the 40’ish that we have now. A small industrial warehouse off the beaten path on the east side of Cincinnati is where he set up shop.
Location didn’t matter much at that time because taprooms were not legal. His plan was to make beer his way and distribute it. Then things changed and taprooms became legal. Location and atmosphere started to mean more than the beer.
During this entire time, Scott was running his brewery without any investors or much help outside of a minimal staff. He also wasn’t paying himself because every dime was needed to pay the bills. His beer was well known and enjoyed by most.
From the outside, it appeared he was growing his business slowly but was doing good. But that obviously wasn’t the case at all.
There’s one part of his farewell post that hit me hard.
Just remember that supporting the ones you like means more than just saying “I went there once and really liked their beers.”
As a craft beer enthusiast, I’ve tried to make it a point to visit all of the breweries in the Cincinnati area. I’ve been relatively successful with this goal so far. So I thought I was doing my part to support local craft beer, right?
But in the end, I had only been to Blank Slate once. “I went there once and really liked their beers.” I’ve ordered their beers at restaurants and picked up some of their canned beer from time to time. But at the end of the day, they weren’t a brewery that I had made any real effort to support.
In fact, when I really look at how I consume craft beer, I don’t know if I do a good job supporting any of the local breweries. When I try to “support” all of them, do I really support any of them?
I have a friend that drinks Rhinegeist Cougar 90% of the time. He literally buys it by the case and has a refrigerator full of it. He is doing more to support local craft beer than I am because Rhinegeist can count on him buying the same beer week after week. Breweries depend on repeat business.
I am at best an occasional customer of most breweries. Yes, I visit more breweries than most and drink a fair amount of local beer but am I doing my part? In my cases, I am waiting for the next great release before I open my wallet. Is that really helping these businesses? I would have to say it isn’t.
Blank Slate Brewing Closed And It’s My Fault
So it is my fault that Blank Slate Brewing closed. And in many ways, it is the fault of all of us. To survive, they needed more people to visit the taproom, buy their canned beer and provide them the cash flow to stay in business. They needed me to use my dollars to say that I liked their beer enough to make it something I drank on a regular basis. Not visit once and say it was good.
But I can’t support every brewery and neither can you. I can only buy, drink and visit so many places before my efforts are spread too thin to matter – or I run out of money and time.
What we can learn from this is that each of us has a decision to make every day. We must support the businesses that we believe provide the product, service, quality, etc that we value. For me, I’ve made efforts to focus more of my drinking on local craft beer but I could always do better.
Am I sad that Blank Slate Brewing closed? Yes. But based on Scott’s comments, I think he wants to make sure that we all know that he loved what he did and did it his way. All of his effort would be for nothing unless we are able to learn from his hard work. So support local craft beer as I am sure that is what he will be doing as well.
Related Post: The Brewery Who Owns Who List
What To Do Now
This is simple; we must speak with our dollars. Support craft beer; focusing on local first.
That means knowing who made your beer and not buying “big beer”. The large beer companies have bought many craft breweries and we need to avoid those brands and instead focus on our local craft beer.
When deciding where to go or what to buy, we must consider where we are not going and not buying as a result. If you’ve heard of the concept of Opportunity Cost then this makes sense. By doing one thing, you are deciding not to do another. When I spend money at a brewery, I am not spending at any of the other 40 or so in my area. And you are doing the same.
Have We Hit Our Brewery Limit?
No, this isn’t about a “craft beer bubble” but it is about understanding that the craft beer industry is shifting a little. Being a regional brewery isn’t going to be easy but we are still in need of neighborhood breweries. That is where the growth will be in the immediate future.
And the reality is other breweries might close. It happens; it’s business. Don’t assume just because a place is well known or makes good beer that they will be able to survive. They only stay open as long as people are drinking their beer.
It’s been a rough week in Cincinnati for craft beer fans but Scott’s legacy lives on in every brewery that he helped and encouraged. Yes, Blank Slate Brewing closed but we can honor their hard work and great beer by realizing our decisions have power. In other words, support local craft beer.