Hops Are The New King

Beer StylesWhen the tipping point is reached in beverage alcohol trends, it can sometimes seem like a dam has broken. We may be at that point with those hoppy IPAs, with seasonal beers not far behind.

There’s plenty of interesting data in a recent report on retail craft beer sales. According to the Craft Brewer’s Association analysis of October four-week scan data released by the IRI group, craft volume accelerated dramatically, up 17.6 percent from the same period a year ago. That raised craft’s year-to-date volume growth to 16.4 percent. Craft retail dollars also increased by 20.0 percent for the period, and are up 18.7 percent year-to-date. Overall beer volume is down .3 percent year to date.

But perhaps most significantly, craft’s growth was led by the IPA style, up 40.1 percent in volume against the same period last year and up an impressive 41.2 percent YTD.

What’s the takeaway? The days when a restaurant or bar can feature just one IPA will soon be over, and operators who diversify by offering brands at various points along the bitterness ladder will likely find favor among customers. On-premise still remains the place of preference for customers when sampling new flavors, but if IPAs are doing so well off-premise, than the next step will require treating the sub-category as more than just another craft beer.

There’s another type of beer doing well that deserve operator attention – seasonal brews had the highest dollar share at retail for the four weeks, nearly 23 percent, with IPA second at about 18 percent. Even so, IPAs are set to pass seasonals for the first time this year as the leading craft sub-category. Also increasing share rapidly from a smaller base, beers grouped as “Blonde, Kolsch, and other Golden Ales” up 79 percent in volume so far this year.

The brewers are certainly watching this trend. Samuel Adams is set to launch its new Rebel IPA nationwide. The 6.5 percent alcohol by volume offering is made with Cascade, Simcoe, Centennial, Chinook and Amarillo hops and is positioned as a West Coast-style IPA. Currently available on draft in key U.S. markets, Rebel IPA will roll out nationwide on draft in January, with six- and 12-packs to follow in February. This follows the recent debut of Samuel Adams’ limited edition seasonal Juniper IPA, which debuted in November, and Samuel Adams Merry Maker, a returning limited edition entry in 22-ounce bottles and on draft in select markets.

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