The most popular beers overall and at breweries and brewpubs—where craft is king…
We don’t need to tell our BevSpot blog readers that craft beer has become a full-on, heavy-hitting industry in America in recent years.
I can speak to this personally, since I’ve been heavily into craft beer for nearly a decade now. In the summer of 2009, my brother and I drove all over Vermont, trying to hit as many breweries on the Vermont Brewery Challenge passport program as we could. (There were fewer of them 8 years ago, and I did manage to score a t-shirt.) This past December, I drove an hour and a half each way to get to Tree House Brewing Co. in Monson, MA to experience a taste of their beer: so sought-after that people stand in line for easily two hours to buy it.
In response to this trend, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at how both mass market and craft beers are selling across our user base.
We collected data from over 500 alcohol-purveying establishments, then zeroed in on 22 who specifically market themselves as beer bars, brewpubs, or breweries. (Hereafter in this article, we’ll refer to these specific 22 as “Beer Bars” for clarity/brevity. Aggregate responses from the 500 will be referred to as “Overall Bars”.) These trends cover all of 2016 as well as January and February of 2017.
The top 12 mass market beers brands have earned this title, because, together, they constitute more than a third of beer order shares in Overall Bars, as you can see in the chart above. By comparison, these same mass market brands make up only about 7-8% of beer orders at Beer Bars. We can infer quite a lot from this data about the habits and priorities of craft beer lovers, and I'll come back to that later on in the article.
It is unsurprising that Sam Adams lager would be a popular mass market beer at Beer Bars where guests tend to be more selective with their tastes, mainly because of the way that the brand has positioned itself from a marketing standpoint; it started off as a craft brewery in 1985, and it made sure to heavily reemphasize this fact in its marketing once the craft beer movement began to gain steam several years back. But the brand had in fact grown into enough of a juggernaut in the intervening decades that most craft beer aficionados would not consider it legitimately craft—so the brand started branching out into legitimate craft territory and worked to develop new beers at its Boston location. Perhaps it's that experimental attitude that has given them that extra edge at Beer Bars.
We also took a look at which non-mass market beers were most popular, and we excluded brands known only to be exclusively found in certain regions of the country. Our results gave us Ballast Point (San Diego, CA), Bell's (Kalamazoo, MI), Founders (Grand Rapids, MI), Lagunitas (Lagunitas, CA), Revolution (Chicago, IL), and Stone (Escondido, CA).
At more than 3%, both Founders and Ballast Point have earned a big chunk of beer order share at Overall Bars, surpassing all but the top three mass market winners we mentioned and neck-and-neck with Stella Artois. This data no doubt speaks to the ever-growing popularity of the craft beer movement in the U.S. overall in recent years, and that as the number of craft breweries sprouting up gets higher and higher, inevitably the market share previously dominated by the big behemoths begins to erode.
It is interesting to note that even the most popular brands of non-mass market beer take up a very small percentage of overall orders--but it's not exactly surprising. Like any hobby of its kind, the true beer “collector” is typically out to forge new territory by sampling beers they've never had before—and the rarer, the better.
From personal experience and what I know of the craft beer community, as well as observations of my hardcore beer snob friends: true craft beer lovers will have their staple favorites that they like to keep in their fridge for casual consumption, but when you're actually out at a bar or visiting a brewery, it's more fun to try something new. When I'm somewhere new, I want to sample that region's unique flavors, or when one of my favorite local breweries like Proclamation comes out with a brand new IPA or Double IPA, you can bet I want to go taste it. Experimentation is at least half the fun of craft beer, and there's nothing better than that first sip of an innovative new hops infusion that blows your tastebuds away.
This tendency is my personal hypothesis for why our data in the chart above shows that the average number of beer brands in order history is 33 for Overall Bars and 121 for Beer Bars: because those who are heavily into the culture are in it for the exploration, whereas those who aren't so adventurous prefer to stick to the safer, more predictable tried-and-true.
What’s your theory? Let’s discuss in the comments below over a pint of our favorite craft beers. And if you enjoyed this data trends report, create a free BevSpot user account and get live updates on when more reports get released. You’ll also get exclusive access to our tools and resources.