Looking Back on Beer Trends

The numbers from various firms analyzing beer sales in 2012 arrived earlier this year, and if your operation is like many others, there were no surprises for you. But just to reinforce the story:

American-made super-premium, premium, light, popular priced and malt liquors all lost volume last year. That’s the brands sold everywhere, from airports and convenience stores to sports arenas and grocery stores. Imports crept up some, but the two categories that grew most by percentage of volume were flavored malt beverages, which play little role on premise, and craft beers, which were up by the highest percentage.


(Oh and about those imports: if you’re still listing Beck’s and Bass on your imported beer menu, time to stop – the brew that’s sold with those brand names is brewed right here in the US, in case that old news missed you.)

Craft now represents more than 10 percent of all beer volume in the country, still growing by double digits annually, with about 2500 craft brewers operating in this country today, from the big, internationally-known names down to the tiniest of new brewers just getting up and running. While new breweries are added, some of the most successful craft brewers are adding facilities, expanding into new markets and even building new breweries in markets far from their home base. If that’s not confidence in the future, what is?

The nation’s independent craft breweries contributed nearly $34 billion to the U.S. economy in 2012, according to recent analysis by the Brewers Association (BA). The trade association’s findings include craft-brewed beer as it moves through the three-tier system - breweries, wholesalers and retailers - in addition to other products brewpub restaurants sell.

Unlike the craft beer boom and bust in the mid 1990s, today’s players are smart and move slowly and steadily and they build attention for their brews by communicating the news of their wares in modern ways with their avid fans. Recently, for example, California brewer Stone Brewing announced it would release its latest “Enjoy By” IPA to markets on the East Coast in time for Valentine’s Day. Initially launched last fall, the “Enjoy By” program involves a special IPA release bottled, kegged, shipped and then delivered within a seven-day timeline, with the beer’s expiration date prominently featured on the label.

And they build interest through connections with smaller parts of popular culture. Cooperstown, New York-based Brewery Ommegang will release the third beer in its “Game of Thrones” series (based on the books and popular TV series), “Fire & Blood,” at the end of March 2014, and is asking fans to decide on the style of the fourth “Game of Thrones” brew set to follow in the fall. Fire & Blood is a 6.8%-abv red ale made with pilsner, spelt, rye and other specialty malts, hopped with Styrian Golding and German Tettnang hops and spiced with ancho chilies. Voting on the fourth “Game of Thrones” beer has already started on Ommegang’s Facebook page, with options including a sweet Belgian-style Dubbel, a rich Belgian-style Quadrupel ale, a golden Tripel and the strong Khal Quadrupel. The winning beer will be announced in spring.

Of course, not everyone loves that TV show. Maybe instead you think your customers want a can that tells them when the beer is cold enough to drink, a la the Coors Light can that turned blue in part when the can is chilled. Or one that looks like a bow tie - Budweiser’s angular can, which kinks in at the center, was all the talk of the marketing and packaging worlds, but how many of your customers were dying to get their hands on it? Still, AB-InBev execs were quoted at the time saying the bow tie can was meant to appeal to consumers who are “looking for new things, the trend-seekers.”


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