Raise your glasses, lager lovers: Craft beers have more than just weathered the recession. While other segments of the economy – and the hospitality industry, specifically – have slumped, sales of craft beer have skyrocketed.
In fact, sales of craft beers have increased by about 50 percent over the last five years.
Consider these interesting bits of intell from the Chicago Tribune:
By EMILY BRYSON YORK
The economic downturn hurt the restaurant industry and canceled a lot of travel plans, but it hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for the ales, lagers, stouts and other specialty brews known as craft beers.
While overall beer sales fell by 2 percent last year, the first decline in six years, the craft segment keeps growing. Craft beers still account for just 4.5 percent of U.S. consumption, but sales have increased by about 50 percent over the last five years, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights.
And that’s got big brewers looking for a bigger piece of the action.
It’s particularly evident in Chicago, where Guinness, an import owned by London-based Diageo is testing a craft beer-like specialty brew, Guinness Black Lager in local bars, groceries and liquor stores. Chicago-based MillerCoors, meanwhile, has established an independent division, christened Tenth and Blake Beer Co., to nurture its craft and import beers, including Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, Peroni and Pilsner Urquell.
”Craft beers and imports have done surprisingly well,” said Tom Ryan, spokesman for Tenth & Blake, noting that the recession has been hard on beer and other discretionary purchases. “There are a lot more choices out there and people are perhaps choosing to buy fewer beers, and maybe with a little more flavor.”
Ryan said craft sales have been on the uptick with young, urban professionals for a number of years, while total beer category sales were relatively stable until last year, when sales began to decline. The slide has continued this year, as 21- to 35-year-old men, a key beer-drinking segment, have been disproportionately affected by rising unemployment.
Harry Schuhmacher, editor of Beer Business Daily, said the beer industry hasn’t suffered declines this steep since the federal excise tax was doubled in 1992, and there haven’t been consecutive year declines of this magnitude since Prohibition.
As for the rise in craft beer sales, experts point to a broader shift in taste preferences, price sensitivity and drinking occasions.
”There is a generational shift that is further advanced than is generally recognized,” said Benj Steinman of Beer Marketer’s Insights. “There are consumers that are increasingly choosing sort of the flavor, diversity and innovation of the craft brewers if they can access it economically.” Craft beers are generally much more expensive than their mass market counterparts.
So worry not, craft beer aficionados, the future looks wet – and wild.
Ninkasi Brewing Co. out of Eugene, Oregon, is a rising giant in the West Coast brewing scene. It’s partly marketing, brewer/owner Jamie Floyd is a marketing master and because the huge, highly hopped beers are extremely popular with many craft beer lovers.
I think I’ve tried 90 percent of their beer styles, but I was intrigued by the double alt they call SLEIGH’R.
I finally got my opportunity after visiting a good friend, the Sunday editorial page editor at The Oregonian. In the midst of a thick and heavy snow, my wife and I drove the few blocks to the Pearl District and Henry’s Tavern to visit an old college buddy. It was a nostalgic day for sure and filled with some great conversation about the industry I love as well as beer.
My friend Carl and his lovely girlfriend were sipping a Ninkasi SLEIGH’R and something over ice, respectively. And over two delicious dark alts, aptly named considering Carl is a disc jockey at a station in Eugene that plays heavy metal, we caught up on the amazing changes in the business since we graduated from journalism school several years ago.
In between the comparison of jobs, I found myself taking some mental notes on the SLEIGH’R. Think of it as a hugely bitter alt beer, but with style and class that you might not expect in the match. A crisp maltiness is evident behind the ample hops, but you don’t struggle to separate the flavors evident in each of the different ingredients. I found SLEIGH’R to be one of the more interesting of the over-hopped regular-style craft beers. India brown ales and double reds, which Ninkasi also specializes in come to mind.
Our conversation hit nearly every possible angle, at times delving into Russian literature and then looping into speculation as to what constitutes violating the rights of rockers when it comes to publishing interviews. Carl, you are an inspiration to me. Only rarely have I met someone who is living their dream. Aside from the many brewers I meet, you are a rare one indeed.
If and when you come upon a Ninkasi SLEIGH’R, find a good conversationalist and order up a couple and kick back and let the beer work it’s magic.