Beer| Insights

Draft vs. Bottle: A Data Breakdown of Beer Ordering Habits

By Andrew Turnwall

A year of data reveals trends in the orders of American barroom patrons…

If there’s one thing that is known in the mythos of the American barroom, it’s that discussion, debate, and the occasional fistfight have been known to come about over a pint. Not least among these is the right and proper method of consuming the aforementioned drinks.

We’ve collected data from over 500 retailers across 40 states, researched brands and competing opinions, and attempted to distill which method of beer transport and dispensary reigns supreme. Before we get into the specifics and numbered data of how the fight shakes out, let’s cover the methods, their pros and cons, and why one might choose one over another.

The following data represents on-premise order data from the 12 months ending in March 2017. While the majority of retailers covered here are located outside of New England and New York, these particular regions are strongly represented in the data. Figures represent percentages of orders from distributors in dollar terms.

By Draft, By Bottle, By Can

A chilled bottle, a frosted glass, an icy can. While all can be refreshing and delicious, they each of them have their merits, their drawbacks, and their own cadre of vigorously devoted followers willing to defend and swear to them on pain of death. There must be some difference, right? As it turns out, there is quite a difference.

A draft beer will usually be freshest, as it is held a keg or barrel that is sealed to be airtight, or near to it, and to keep out light. Served in a chilled glass specially designed for beer, it’s everything a good beer needs to maintain freshness and taste. However, freshness depends on how well the tap lines are maintained and cleaned. Those lines love bacteria that can form around alcohol, which give the drink a spoiled and buttery taste. For best use of the taps any bar has on hand, regular cleaning is a necessity to maintain freshness.

A bottle or a can eliminate the problem of maintaining complex lines, especially in beer bars or breweries that can have upwards of fifteen taps. What’s more, a can is opaque, sealed, easy to transport. No light enters the can and thus we avoid the skunky flavor that can sometimes accompany beer that has been overexposed. The bottle, if made from a dark glass, usually brown or black, can mitigate much of this problem as well. But cans, for all their usefulness, do not fit with the image of craft, mystique, and occasion that a cold bottle or glass do. Light glass bottles can have a tendency to skunk any beer held within, and twist-top bottles aren’t always as airtight as we would all like. For all that, they look good, transport well, and require less upkeep.

So, pros and cons discussed, how does the data back this up?

Comparison of draft orders vs. cans/bottles

The tally across our 500 on-premise retailers stretching across near every corner of the nation shows a bit of a drubbing in favor of draft beer over the bottled and canned variety. Draft accounts for just over sixty percent of beer ordered at these establishments, and the last decade of craft revolution should make this less than surprising, as many craft breweries don’t bottle or can their beer at all.

Most-ordered draft beers compared to bottle/can orders

We can delve even further by brand to see where the American drinker comes down on this most important debate. Three of the biggest commercial beers find their way into bars by way of the bottle and can route. Coors (4.9% to 2.5%) and Miller (7.5% to 3.5%) take twice as much of the bottle and can market as they do draft. Bud Light is more than a three to one ratio at 13.1% to 4%. That said, the 4% share Bud Light rang up was still tops on the list, indicating just how large and well-known the brand truly is.

Drilling Into Data

Marketing plays a strong role in the method the beers are sold as well. Sam Adams was originally a craft brewery. With the explosion of the craft scene, they pushed that message hard, and marketed themselves as a craft outfit. Consequently, their 2.4% share of draft beers ordered is more than twice as large as the share they take of bottled orders.

Drilling Into Data

On the flip side of the coin, Corona sells itself as a destination, customers relaxing on a beach, cool and sweaty bottles in hand, garnished with a lime wedge. Corona’s 10.2% share of bottled beer orders is more than 100 times that of their draft share.

Getting The Best of It

So what can we take from the data? Is Bud Light just that much better out of the can? Are brands like Stella Artois, Guinness, and Blue Moon superior when ordered as a draft? How a beer is presented truly can change the taste. The fresher the beer, the better. The temperature is important. The amount of light a beer is exposed to or air can change the quality of the drink.  But, beyond the physical differences, the perception of how a beer is meant to be enjoyed can change not just the way it’s ordered, but how good it tastes. Coors, Miller, and Bud Light are marketed in a can or bottle, with twist caps and cold-activated cans and ease of use or convenient cases. This is how they are ordered, this is how people have come to think of them.

Sams and Stella and Blue Moon are marketed as a polar opposite to the above. Stella is never seen outside its trademark glass. Blue Moon is always properly served with an orange garnish. Sams and Guinness put a full and frothy head on display. The expectation comes with an association of taste, aroma, and feel. So, is a drink better based on how it’s ordered? That’s up to the drink, to the bias with which we approach it, and, sometimes, to a clean tap line.

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