Hip to Sip

With the Younger Generation Hitting the Bar Scene, Beer Gets its Groove Back

They’re young, hip, eager to learn and tech savvy. They drink Allagash and Anchor Steam but also enjoy a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon. They aren’t afraid of spending money, but they expect a high quality return on their investment. Who are they? They’re the new beer drinkers (a.k.a. legal-age Millennials), and you should get to know them because they’re the people who are jump-starting beer sales and who will propel the category for the next decade and beyond.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that for the last few years, beer has taken a back seat at the bar as chic cocktails and wine have dominated the scene. But that’s all changing as Millennials — those born between 1978 and 2000 — are getting turned on to beer when they reach legal drinking age. What’s more, they’re particularly interested in craft brews.

Millennial beer drinkers at bar

The Cool Factor

Crafts may not seem like the logical choice for a new beer drinker; they’re esoteric, complex and more expensive — not necessarily attributes that would appeal to a young consumer. So why is the craft beer segment so popular? The short answer: Because it’s cool. Everything about the craft movement is trendy right now, from small-batch bourbons to micro-distilled beers.

“Millennials have grown up in a world that has always had craft beer, so the learning curve, as they became legal drinking age adults, is less than those who learned about beer styles and choices later on,” Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, explains. Additionally, Millennials appreciate the craft brewer style. “One idea that Millennials relate to is ‘authenticity,’ and craft brewers’ stories as small and independent companies resonate. Also, Millennials pay less attention to traditional marketing, instead relying on word of mouth and the Internet for information. These sources are more trusted for this demographic. As many craft brewers have never had large marketing budgets, they were early adopters of social marketing, which fits right in with new legal drinking age adults.”

Palate Pleasers

This is anything but a bubble gum flavor crowd — they like their palates to be challenged. “Younger and newer beer drinkers are into extreme styles — Belgian specialties, sours, imperial stouts, double IPAs, etc.,” says Brian McGee, a bartender at the Publick House in Brookline, Mass.  Extreme Belgians appear to be a common denominator for this new generation. Mike Naessens, owner of Eulogy Belgian Tavern in Philadelphia, says Millennials trend toward easy-to-drink beers with complex flavor profiles. “Those who do the most research tend to go for the extreme beers, either ‘hop bombs’ with very high IBUs or the very complex Belgian Tripels. Our best seller is our Eulogy Busty Blonde, a Belgian Pale Ale brewed in Belgium for us. We also sell a lot of La Chouffe, which is another easy-drinking beer that has a fun taste profile of a sweet malty base with herbs and lemon and coriander.”

Seasonal and limited-edition brews, too, are popular, Gatza says. “Seasonal beers are interesting and changing, and they have a sense of being special to drink because once they’re gone, they’re gone.”

Gatza also sees retro beers gaining traction with Millennials. Although retros couldn’t be further from crafts on the beer spectrum, there’s something inherently cool about them, and beers such as PBR, Genesee, Schlitz, Stroh’s and Narragansett all are seeing upticks in sales.

From old-school tastes to local beers to handcrafted microbrews, it’s important to have a wide variety on tap, Gatza says. “We have seen many restaurants and clubs open the last few years with six or more draft beer tap handles, and having a strong draft selection of different beer styles is pretty important to getting newer drinkers in the door.”

Tasting and Teaching

Millennials are eager to learn, and pairing beer with an appetizer or entrée is a great way to showcase various brew styles. In fact, food, especially casual fare, presents ample opportunities for beer sales, Gatza says, citing recent information from Nielsen that shows evening appetizer sales and lunch are big areas for growth in beer sales on-premise, especially in casual and fine dining concepts.

These Millennials often are crossovers from wine, McGee says, and he’s seeing more and more younger guests frequenting the beer and food pairing dinners. “They’re seeking information, and they take it seriously. Brewers have the same commitment to their craft that winemakers do, and this group appreciates that.”

But members of this younger beer generation aren’t just getting their education from beer pairings. Naessens notes that many of his Millennial clientele, who are crossovers from mainstream beers and mixed drinks, use the Internet for research, educating themselves on sites like beeradvocate.com, ratebeer.com or beermenus.com.

Staff members also must be educated and able to assist these eager newbies even further in their beer tasting adventures, McGee notes. “Knowledgeable staff can take the palate profile and guide a drinker into something they’ve never explored before.”

Money Matters

For most young drinkers, money is tight, but that doesn’t mean the more expensive craft brews are beyond reach — it just means guests must choose wisely. “Younger people seem to be hit harder by the current unemployment levels so we find them drinking smarter. One high-quality craft beer instead of two bland beers comprises their night out,” says Naessens, who sees his new drinkers as crossovers from mainstream beers and mixed drinks. To get the most for their money, Naessans helps patrons by guiding them into making the best beer choice for their buck. “We show the younger crowd that one great-tasting 8 percent ABV beer at $7 is a better choice than two bland 4 percent ABV beers at $4 each, and they understand the message.”

For an industry in need of a spark, today’s new beer drinkers present exciting possibilities. But as quickly as they change their Facebook statuses, they can change their tastes. The trick is staying ahead of the game. NCB

Analyzing the New Beer Drinker

Who, exactly, is this new beer drinker? Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, breaks it down:

Who They Are: “The new beer drinker, at least those that are providing growth for beer, include 25- to 34-year-olds, women and those with household incomes [either] below $45,000 or over $100,000.”

What They Need: “Millennials have grown up in a world with lots of choices and lots of flavors in the foods and drinks and consumer products they buy. They aren’t afraid of breaking away from conventional brands and will sometimes shun larger brands so they can express their individuality in their choices.”

How to Get Them: “This group also is hugely tech savvy and relies on the Internet more than other sources for networking and information. Perceived value is very important to this group. They are willing to spend some money if the product delivers.”

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