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May 30, 2011 11:41 PM

Today's Beer Drinkers and the Future of Craft Beer

I've been impressed by how many young Americans are drinking craft beer, at least in the bay area. They are much more discriminating than my generation ever was.

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  1. Sometimes I wonder about that.

    I've met a lot of discriminating craft beer fans, yes, but someone's voting up those BA/RateBeer favorites, and it ain't me.

    I fear that much of what's going on now is surface-level appreciation, marked by an excessive interest in novelty. I hope I'm wrong, but it seems like the industry is ripe for another mid-'90s-type correction.

    That seems to be how trends work. I just hope when this trend calms down there's still a good-sized market to keep the good breweries in business. Maybe it isn't even just a trend, and my inner cynic is dead wrong.

    3 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      A number of trends are involved.

      Young people like real things and don't like people pitching at them. (Granted, PBR is 'real' to them as well as craft beer.)

      'Local' is a big deal these days, and craft clearly plays well in that way.

      Hundreds of new breweries are starting, and wholesalers and retailers can't handle all the brands. I see today's bubble as driven more by zeal than dollars, which characterized the last one.

      Several breweries are expanding in a big way: Lagunitas, Stone, Bell's, DFH, etc. If they are wrong about growth in this segment, there will be some major problems. Last time we saw Mendocino and Catamount, to name two, get into trouble when the big growth didn't materialize.

      Craft beer sells because it's genuine, and I don't see that changing.

      1. re: Jim Dorsch

        Jim, I completely agree with you. The Catamount thing sticks in my memory and i pray that Larry Bell (who makes great beers that folks in the NE only hear about) has his ducks in a row, Mendocino, wow a great brew that has turned to slop.......Wild Goose etc....

        1. re: MOREKASHA

          The Mendocino story was quite unusual, what with the brewery ownership going to Kingfisher, along with a new brewery in Saratoga Springs. That was from Nor'Wester if I recall, which also got itself in a financial bind.

          I used to love Catamount Porter, and also their Christmas Ale. I was sad to see them go.

          I feel optimistic that this latest round of expansions will work out well. But time will tell. Certainly, demand continues for craft beer. My concern is that there will simply be too many brands on the market, and that some pruning will result in product lines.

    2. The '90s boom ,IMO, was fueled by a lot of people who read Charlie P's homebrewing book, started brewing some fair beers and then were encouraged by friends and familly to start brewing commercially. Then more and more jumped in who were just trying to make a buck off of a trend, made very poor beers which turned enough beer drinkers off to cause the market to sour.
      Now we have a lot of very good beers coming to market but the problem again, IMO, is that there is so much redundantcy (sp?) in style and flavor that the good beer drinkers will become reluctant to try the latest 'me too' beer on the shelf. The field will winnow it's self down., and the best of the best will survive.

      13 Replies
      1. re: chimay5

        Maybe. I don't really see a lot of terrible beers coming from craft brewers. Most homebrewers seem to make a lot of ales based on English styles, but perhaps with an overabundance of American hops. I think this might be a short-term overreaction to relatively insipid industrial beer that has dominated American beer culture for so long. I think the hops will subside at some point, maybe not soon, though, just as American taste for overly tannic red wine and overly oaked chardonnays seems to have dialed down a bit. But I also think that interest in craft beer and home brewing has led a lot of people to explore other styles as well. I've noticed that a lot of home brewers and microbreweries are making some Belgian style ales as well. A lot of people, though, myself included, are exploring some of the finer aspects of German and Belgian beer styles, which have been around and available for many many years. Although some American brewers, like Victory and Moonlight, are making some very good pilsners, and a handful of decent hefeweizens, I haven't seen a lot of great American bocks, dopplebocks, weizenbocks, or dunkelweizens, except in relatively small batches.

        1. re: chuckl

          I feel like there will be a shift in the next few years to beers that are brewed to style (or close to the BJCP guidelines). With any explosion of an particular sub-industry, there are few variants in the consumer base. There are definitely many individuals who are just joining the craft beer "wave" and will probably drop off once they find something else that fancies them. However, I think some of us who have been in it for the long haul are going to witness more breweries aiming to brew a beer closer to the guidelines and really trying to one-up one another when it comes to the subtlties of flavor, aroma, etc. I love what Brian Hunt is doing at Moonlight or even what Mark Jilg is doing (and has been doing for many years) at Craftsman.

          1. re: shellshock24

            I'm not seeing a lot of young Americans drinking craft beer here in Vegas, and I'm talking about the locals beer scene, not the strip and downtown, although you could include them into it as well.

            There are bars here with large numbers of taps, nearly all craft beer, yet I'm nearly always the only one drinking something other than the usual Bud, Miller or Coors.

            There are some large liquor stores here too, and while standing in line I'm almost always the only person purchasing craft beer while once again the others have their carts full of cases of the above mentioned beers.

            Certainly there are SOME young people buying craft beer, but the amount I see is so tiny compared to the ones who buy only Bud, Miller or Coors that it's barely a blip on the radar screen. Wish I could say the numbers of craft beer drinkers are growing, but I'm certainly not seeing it here.

            1. re: Whisper

              My experience in the Bay Area is very different. New bars like Beer Revolution in Oakland and Gourmet Haus in Redwood City, along with pubs like Toronado and Zeitqeist and beer/restaurants like Suppenkuche in San Francisco are packed just about every night, even week nights, mostly with younger beer drinkers. None of those places even serves an industrial beer in bottles or on tap, not even PBR. Obviously, the younger drinkers who frequent these places have a pretty good idea what they're looking for. Some other pubs serve both craft beer and a couple industrial lagers, and I do see a lot of "hipsters" drinking $2.50 tall boy cans of PBR.

            2. re: shellshock24

              I think it would be sad indeed if the brewing industry started adhering to BJCP "guidelines". That would be a step backwatds, not forwards.

              These "guidelines" were designed specifically __for judging homebrewed beer__ in amateur competition, not as the 'last word' regarding what any given beer style should be. The guidelines are well intentioned and more than adequate for their stated purpose---homebrew judging. But the BJCP guidelines are not, and should not, be the 'last word' on whether a beer is "to style" (a term which itself is receiving more and more derision among hardcore beer lovers these days anyway).

              There are probably plenty of very good commercial beers in a given style that may not agree with what the BJCP states...does that necessarily make them lesser efforts? i think not. There are technically only a handful of "styles" anyway, and they have always been made with broad strokes and variations at the whim of the brewer. The ever growing, ever expanding BJCP list seems to advocate treating every sub variant of every style as its own style. Add three more hop cones and it's a new "style" It's all getting a bit silly.

              I'm not against the "styles" concept per se as it does provide a common language and defines certain broad expectations . I use some of the terminology myself when it helps communicate something.
              But I just think that there is far too much emphasis on it these days.

              Lew Bryson says it best: "Brew WITH style, not TO style".

              1. re: The Professor

                You can see the effect of regimentation according to style by comparing German and Belgian beers. The Germans make great beer, but the stylistic spectrum is very limited. Then you have the laissez faire Belgians making scores of unique, wonderful beers, and inventing more ...

                1. re: The Professor

                  I see a need for both as well. My neighborhood brewpub is sort of a beer "art house" to me. They specialize in brewing beers which are not part of the commercial mainstream (e.g. gruit, beer brewed using cheerios). On the other hand sometimes you don't want surprises but just an Irish stout or an APA. 

                  1. re: Chinon00

                    Chinon which brewpub are you referring to? If I were to hazard a guess I would say Earth Bread & Brewery...

                    1. re: cwdonald

                      Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding . . . !

                      I will add too that experimentation is great but at some point one needs to settle down and begin to refine some of his or her more successful experiments and at least attempt to make a "great beer".

                      1. re: Chinon00

                        Part of the craft scene that I just don't get is the one and done ticker mentality - both brewers and consumers - a special beer once in a while for a special occassion, sure no problem - a taste at a beerfest or other tasting, fine, or even just something different to break out of rut. But at some point I would think normal beer drinkers after a period of experimentation will start to develop favorites and want to drink a certain beer because that is exactly the flavor profile that they are in the mood for. I get the impression those that prize the unknown more than beers that they are familiar with is because they really don't know what their preferences for beer are, nor can judge a quality, well designed and executed beer over flavorful slop, and/or never satisfied with the beers they've had in the past, so always need something new to be excited about. To me, that's like chasing a high - soon enough it doesn't satisfy like it used to, and you need more and more to get off.

                        I know I would rather have a dozen beers available that I know are reliably great that represent the styles I prefer, than 100's of unknown beers that usually run the bell curve on quality/craftmanship.

                        Anyone can throw random darts at a board and sometimes hit the bullseye, hitting the bullseye on a consistent basis takes skill, knowledge, practice, and experience.

                        1. re: LStaff

                          LStaff.. to play devils advocate... experimentation is no different than the variatioin in wines that happen year by year.. just by the nature of the harvest... or by the variations in the blending of different vintages... I think we like a style .. but I do not think that it has to be exactly the same. Take a seasonal favorite of mine.. the Anchor Christmas Beer.. OSA varies its recipe each year. I try it each year.. its part of my seasonal celebration, but I have no expectation that Anchor should use the same recipe each year. And one off beers are fun (Dark Humor.. they mark special occasioins.. they mark collaborations... (such as the wonderful B2B that I had yesterday a collaboratioin of four breweries in philadelphia using the old Schmidts brewery yeast) or they are done in honor . (the wonderful pilsner that Flying Fish and Triumph did in memory of the late Jay Mission). We bake cakes to mark an occasion, why not brew a special beer. I do not think it will ever go out of style.. there is a place for consistent beer and there is a place for a special beer.

                          1. re: LStaff

                            We drink craft beer. A lot of it. Yes, we have our favorites, but it is exciting for us to try new ones. We even create vacations around visiting new breweries/brew pubs. We will probably never get sick of trying new beers, just as I will never get sick of trying new flavors in food.

                            Having go-to favorites is important, especially when in a grocery store or other non-craft friendly place. You always know that Bell's Two Hearted or Heavy Seas Small Craft Warning will hit the spot. And sometimes that particular taste is exactly what we are in the mood for. I'm just glad that it is now relatively easy to find beers such as these. It wasn't long ago that grocery stores only carried the macros.

                    2. re: The Professor

                      I agree that if the industry as a whole reverted back to brewing beers that fit within the framework of the BJCP guidelines that it would be a huge step back for the industry. However, I think when the dust settles and those who hopped on the "trend train" move on to the next big thing, there's going to be a call for more pilsners, and more dobblebocks, and more subtle beers where flaws in the beers can't be easily hidden by the addition of a ton more hops or malts or coffee etc.

                      I've been on Beer Advocate for awhile and I am definitely seeing a trend among some of the "older" users towards more traditionally styled beers.

                      I love all beers that are brewed well, within or without the BJCP framework, but I'm just not a huge fan of beers that cover up flaws with more alcohol.

              2. Touching on a point that appeared somewhere on this board, I think that one of the reasons that there are still so many bud light drinkers in craft beer bars is that American Craft Beer Brewers (by and large, not as a whole) have not dedicated themselves to producing the understated, everyday, working man's beer that brewers overseas have been producing for generations.

                I am guilting of beating this drum a little too often but the joy of going to the UK or the Czech Republic or Germany is that there is a preponderance of local beers that taste great, can be drunk in quantity and are served fresh (imagine sitting in your favorite Beer Garden over a half liter of Hop Wallop or in a smoky pub with friends and an imperial pint of Pliny). I think that there needs to be more of an emphasis on local production and local flavor, not simply cities making great beers, but neighborhoods.

                I believe that the American beer drinker still suffers from the sting of prohibition; where it is not appropriate or decent or healthy to have a beer at lunch and where bars are inhabited by young singles and creeps, not by families socializing. With this mindset, it becomes a matter of packing as much booze and flavor (hop, sour, smoke or otherwise) into one glass,since there won't be many more after that.

                The best parallel I can think of is wine in Europe. In France, Spain and elsewhere, wine is drunk nearly every night and in quantities that most americans would be startled by. As a matter of practicality, wines are by and large lower in alcohol and lighter in body. To compensate for the two glasses with each meal, American wines are stronger, bolder and somewhat less subtle (I'm generalizing, of course).

                There's a reason craft beer has a reputation among non-beer drinkers as being overhopped and too strong and that's because a lot of it is. If the correction comes in the form of a greater market share for the sorts of exciting, nuanced beers found throughout Europe, I will welcome it heartily.

                28 Replies
                1. re: Ernie Diamond

                  Has it ever occurred to you that these brewers are actually meeting market demand?

                  Here's an anecdote for you - a true one. The sentiment you're expressing has been expressed by others in the craft beer industry, though typically people who started in the late '80s-early '90s.

                  Here where I live we have a brewery named Karl Strauss, originally Old Columbia Brewing Company ca. 1990, where the claim-to-fame was an uncle who was a brewmaster for Pabst, whose ancestry hailed back to Germany, and a brewery there. The PR for the company likes to point out that Uncle Karl was born in a brewery, and he had final say over the beers they would make.

                  Their beers were pretty boring, for a really long time, because Karl shared the views you are expressing here.

                  They had pretty good market penetration, but were snubbed by a couple of the big early spots in SD for craft beer. One place, Liars' Club, the owner Louis told the rep from Strauss that he didn't carry their beer because it wasn't interesting or hoppy enough.

                  One day, Karl himself showed up at Liars' Club to try to persuade the owner to carry their beer, and he told Karl the same thing he told the reps, and Karl told him people don't like hoppy beers. Louis pointed to his 20+ handles of hoppy beer and said that his customers did. That stopped Strauss' efforts, and illustrates an important point - what the older generation is deriding as some kind of passing fad in craft beer has now been the standard for almost 10 years in the markets where it really took hold. And obviously other people in other cities are learning what was learned on the west coast a decade ago - there is an audience for more flavorful beer.

                  I don't think the genie is going back in the bottle any time soon.

                  1. re: Josh

                    I agree, Josh, and would take your point even a step further. I don't think the people who drink craft beer are looking for so-called "session" beers for the most part. They are looking for beers that challenge their palate with the full range of flavors that beer is capable of achieving. Hoppy ales and imperial and double everything are one indication of this appetite for "extreme" beers, but I'm seeing it with other flavors as well, particularly with sour beers. You can hardly find Cantillon around anywhere. Russian River Brewing has a hard time brewing enough Pliny the Elder, as well as Supplication, Sanctification, Temptation, etc. to keep up with demand even locally. In the Bay Area, craft beer bars are packed almost all the time, and while a fair number of young hipsters are drinking hefeweizen, a lot of them are drinking black IPAs and other strong ales as well. When people stop drinking high abv and high ibu ales, maybe we'll see a change, but I don't see that happening any time soon. Just the opposite, in fact.

                    1. re: chuckl

                      You can't find Cantillon because the brewery doesn't send much beer to the U.S., can't make much beer, and cannot expand. Dan Shelton is quoted in today's Craft Business Daily, saying that the most they got of any Cantillon last year was 600 cases of Gueuze, and those are the small cases, equal to a half case of most beers.

                      Regarding session beers, well, some people are looking for them. Lew Bryson, for one:

                      I don't think that to be a serious beer drinker you have to prefer extreme beers. There's something to be said for a beer of modest alcohol content, one that you easily drink several pints of while chatting with friends, and perhaps a beer with some subtlety.

                      I do agree that the market for session beers is limited at this point. But that doesn't mean that there is not a market there to be developed. After a time, brewers will have captured all the fanciers of huge beers, and will have to do something else to attract new business.

                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                        Sessionable beers are low alcohol, but can still be quite hoppy and flavorful.

                        I'm not saying serious beer drinkers prefer extreme beers, but the categorization of any beer that's not a European-style lager as "extreme" seems silly.

                          1. re: Josh

                            Woah. Don't conflate what I said with the idea that everyone should drink Euro-lagers. That's fairly inflammatory.

                            Do I think that the craft beer makers are meeting market demand? Well, yes and no. I think that they are serving the segment of the market that requires beers within a certain profile but there is a massive share of the market that is not served at all by craft brewers. Do I think that they need to dumb down their product or make something different? Not by a long shot.

                            The point of my originial post was to bemoan the fact that in the US, beer is still relegated to swingin' singles, sports superfans or bespectacled craft drinkers. That's largely a feature of marketing.

                            My belief is that ALL beer drinkers would be better served, and that we would see a new appreciation for sessionable, more subtle styles if beer regained its postion as an everyday beverage.

                            Chinon does a far better job below at expressing my feeling that when huge masses are looking for the "best bang for their buck," it leaves legions of folks out in the cold who are looking for quality replacements for the Miller Lights of the world.

                            1. re: Ernie Diamond

                              " drinkers would be better served, and that we would see a new appreciation for sessionable, more subtle styles if beer regained its postion as an everyday beverage."

                              You're not alone in this sentiment, Ernie. I'm just beginning to learn about the range and depth of beer offerings out there from the Man who is a beernik and home brewer. But while I'm learning to drink ultra-hoppy IPAs and some crazy rich but bitter stouts, and lots of other stuff in between, we often talk about how craft breweries seem almost to dismiss the light, everyday lager that could really benefit from the same care and attention to detail that some of these more challenging varieties are getting.

                              I think for now I fall in that gap between the upper mass market drinker and the serious craft beerhead, and I think they'd turn more of my kind on to their more challenging offerings if they produced some well crafted but easier drinking gapfillers for people like me. :)

                              1. re: inaplasticcup

                                I believe that in time, the smarter "craft" brewers (especially the more skilled among them) will indeed start to introduce beers to their lineups that will appeal to a broader range of beer drinkers. A few are doing it already, and the ones with adequate production capacity should be able to do it without having to abandon their more adventurous efforts.
                                There are plenty of other "craft" brewers who will content themselves continuing to make beers pushing the envelope with outrageously ramped up flavors, ingredient gimmicks, or unheard of amounts of hops since such beers often require somewhat less skill to make and can often be a blind item (that is, nothing to really compare them to), and there will always be an audience for them as well.
                                It's all good.
                                And it's nice to be living in a time where there's lots of beer to go around, lots of choice, and something for every palate.

                                1. re: The Professor

                                  Craft brewers who make more accessible products seem to be on a slippery slope, as they are accused of making dumbed-down or training-wheels beers. If they can sell enough of it, then it doesn't matter, except they might feel they're being ostracized by the craft-beer community. A couple examples, of course, are Widmer and New Belgium, both pioneers in their way, ironically.

                                  1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                    At my local Rock Bottom Brewpub the most "approachable" beer that they offer now is a well made Kolsch (IMHO). Previously they had a light lager style (to please a certain crowd) but no more. Also I spoke to the bartender about what the casual beer drinkers are having. He responding that many ask for Blue Moon. Very few ask for Bud or Coors Light anymore.
                                    So I think that we're seeing hopefully that casual crowd (that's still wants something interesting) grow.

                                    1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                      We haven't discussed cans. I think that with a certain segment of the population, this is a brewers back door into their pocket. Strange but some folks think that canned beer is the shit. Now, canned beer isn't bad just because it's canned. Most of it sucks because the beer sucks So some folks like cans, some like price, but if you can convert the can drinkers then you're on to something. Thank you Oscar Blues.

                                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                        You're right, Jim...the more hard core among the "craft" beer lovers certainly are a picky lot. I get a good chuckle from the notion held by many die-hards that small brewers who add more accessible beers to their lineup and grow into big brewers are "selling out". Many of the more militant types are in some kind of denial about the fact that while the new brewers presumably do enter the competitive fray fueled by a passion for beer, the ultimate goal is still to _make money_.

                                        1. re: The Professor

                                          You bang this drum a lot. It makes me wonder how many brewers you know.

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            Hmmm, didn't realize I was 'banging a drum"... but yes, I do know a number of brewers including a few who were true pioneers in the area of so called "craft" beer, a few people who retired out of larger companies like Pabst and AB, and one or two published writers whose primary topic of interest was beer. I also know 2 former owners of failed craft breweries.
                                            Don't get me wrong...I do like the so called "craft" products even if I think that particular descriptive term is sometimes misleading.

                                            Other than that, I'm not sure which drum I was banging here...was it my statement that the "craft" brewers are in it ultimately to make money? Not an unreasonable statement since the sensible ones _will_ pursue that goal; and I did after all qualify it by saying that most (though not all) of them probably entered the fray because of their love of good beer. I'll grant that it's generally the ones with the genuine passion for the product that tend to succeed...but it is certainly no guarantee that they will.

                                        2. re: Jim Dorsch

                                          New Belgium's Lips of Faith series goes a long way towards mitigating that perception, IMO. Le Terroir is an epic sour.

                              2. re: chuckl

                                My story is anecdotal but at a local beer bar I asked the owner if he had any lower alcohol British beers like milds or bitters. He said: "no nobody drinks that stuff. People want high alcohol to cost ratio". In other words they wanna get drunk or want the best bang for their buck is how I took it. That's a factor too; and not just taste preference.
                                And I'm very offended at the idea that complexity increases with gravity and ibu. Samuel Smith Nut Brown and many other lower alcohol, non-smoked, non-Brett, non-"extreme" beers are sublime.

                                1. re: Chinon00

                                  I think (for myself, at least) that people find it easy to appreciate a huge jolt of flavor. It's not necessarily the alcohol per buck, although that is no doubt a factor. Although I advocate for session beers, I confess that my tastes tend to the big and huge. However, when in London (which isn't very often, unfortunately), I marvel at the flavor they pack into low-gravity beers. I think it's partly due to cask-conditioning.

                                  1. re: Chinon00

                                    Depends where you go, a few of our local beer places make it a point to have interesting low-alcohol beers.

                                2. re: Josh

                                  I think that Ernie is saying that the brewers are meeting a particular market demand, but perhaps aren't meeting all of it. The fact that lots of people appreciate big, full-flavored beers doesn't mean that there aren't people who aren't so adventurous, or who haven't seen a way to sidle into the craft world w/o drinking what to them is extreme beer.

                                  I know a brewer here in VA, Allen Young, who is a master at producing subtle, elegant lager beers. People who know beer appreciate what he does, and people who are scared of IPAs can drink them as well, w/o fear. They are not overblown, and neither are they dumbed down.

                                  1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                    This is one area where American craft brewers are missing out. While I love big, bold ales, many of my friends do not. But that doesn't mean they cannot appreciate beers that are well made. Often a small brewery will make one lager just to have it and it seems like little effort was put into making the beer interesting.

                                    Just last night I was out with 5 other girls. These are not Bud Light drinkers and appreciate well-made beers, though the majority prefer less hoppy than I do. We did tastings of 4 wheat beers, a pilsner and a lager (all on tap). My friends absolutely could taste the subtle variations and had their favorites. These girls will spend just as much money on beer as I will, but they have less to choose from. That is really too bad.

                                    1. re: mojoeater

                                      Clearly, to grow the category, craft brewers will eventually have to appeal to a broader group of beer drinkers. Only so many will gravitate toward huge beers. (Of course, there are beers on the market today that appeal to lots of people.)

                                      Also, to brew big beers is to limit your sales, since people can't drink as many of them. Garrett Oliver likes to speak of the "four pint test", or maybe it's the "three pint test"; I can't remember. Anyway, the test, obviously, is whether a person can/will sit down at a bar, drink a pint of your beer, and then drink two or three more. If they do, then your brewery is selling them an appreciable amount of beer, and not just one pint.

                                      I confess to being able to pass this test while consuming some powerful beers.

                                      1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                        It is rare that I have fewer than 3 beers when beer drinking. Where we go, there are usually so many options I cannot drink just one!

                                        1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                          I don't really get the xPint test. I never drink more than 1 of any given beer when out at a craft beer bar. I'd rather try three or four different beers.

                                          1. re: Josh

                                            Thats why I like going to places that sell tasters or small sizes so you can try 8 or 9 beers and not fall off your stool. Then you can get a pint or two of the ones you like. Im finding more bars are doing this now. Its not just strictly a brewpub option any more.

                                          2. re: Jim Dorsch

                                            I like the x pint test. Truly great beer is worth drinking again and again. Back to back even.

                                            >Clearly, to grow the category, craft brewers will eventually have to appeal to a broader group of beer drinkers. Only so many will gravitate toward huge beers.

                                            Great point.

                                            Also at some point the "easy" craft markets are going (if not already) to get saturated with craft choices, and brewers are going to have to do something to engage repeat buyers in their own home/regional markets instead of just sending beer to a wider area for sales increases. There will always be a small portion of beer geeks looking for new beer all the time, but I believe most beer drinkers want beer they can depend on - and can easily access and afford to purchase on the regular.

                                          3. re: mojoeater

                                            Except for a few hot spots around the country, well made craft lagers and hefewizen are few and far between. I think its sad that craft lager for the most part isn't produced at a high enough quality and that 6 month old pastuerized imports are much more enjoyable - and usually a better price.

                                            These are the styles that industrial lager drinkers would likely move up to - so it will still be a long while until craft beer has the capacity to even meet demand in this area.

                                            1. re: LStaff

                                              I don't know that I can speak for any pros out there but a siginificant challenge for lager brewers is that it takes a good bit of time to condition. That and lower fermentation temps means that specialized equipment is held up for longer per batch. That's just reality for the style, sadly.

                                              Some good things just can't be rushed.

                                              1. re: Ernie Diamond

                                                That is a good point. It really takes a lot of capital investment for beers that take as long as lagers to make. Capital wil be the toughest hurdle to clear for the future expansion of craft beer.

                                    2. Like many of us I too skip around when at a beer bar. I wanna experience different things. It's sort of like an attempt at connoisseurship. What's growing I believe are those who would rather drink more casually but drink "well". So for instance some friends and others enjoy consistently Hefe-Weizen after having been into BMC for years. That's what the craft scene in the US kinda misses.

                                      10 Replies
                                      1. re: Chinon00

                                        >It's sort of like an attempt at connoisseurship.

                                        The way I see it in the hard core beer geek world is that knowledge of brewing, its technical aspects ,and being able to tell a well thought out, structured, and executed beer from full flavored slop is being replaced by a sort of psuedo-connoisseurship of knowing about the latest releases, their rarity, trading, collecting, how many ticks you have, etc. which for the most part really has nothing to do with the actual beer.

                                        1. re: Chinon00

                                          I think we craft beer geeks tend to think our numbers and opinions are greater than they actually are. The vast majority of beer drinkers just want a refreshing beverage. Overall, for the beer scene, it's more important for most people to move to something that's better than industrial beer, like a domestic hefeweizen, than it is for more people to drink extreme beer. Craft beer is around 5% of total U.S. consumption, which is nothing for BMC (or inbev and molson) to worry about. But if people start drinking even domestic hefeweizens or decent pilsners like Trumer or Scrimshaw in large enough numbers, they could put a serious dent in the industrial beer market.

                                          1. re: chuckl

                                            IMO I think the big boys are starting to get worried. Just look at how much Bud Busch, and Miller sales have decreased last year.


                                            "It appears that some of the mass-produced beers, Coors and Budweiser, are getting squeezed," said Zippin. "[Consumers] are either going to really low cost beers, like PBR (Pabst Blue Ribbon), or they're going to the craft beers."

                                            Coors Light, from Molson Coors Brewing, managed to carve out a sales gain of 1.1% in 2010, according to statistics from Standard & Poor's and the industry publication Beer Marketer's Insights. But sales for Miller High Life, also from Molson Coors, dropped more than 4% last year.

                                            Sales for Budweiser, the flagship brand for Anheuser-Busch InBev Inc., plunged 7.3% in 2010, while Busch sales dropped more than 6%, Bud Light sales slipped nearly 2% and Natural Light fell 3%.

                                            1. re: LStaff

                                              My understanding is that they're making up for their losses in the U.S. with sales in Asia

                                              1. re: chuckl

                                                The bigs are also playing more in the craft segment. Blue Moon and Shock Top are doing well, for example. Also imports such as Stella.

                                                I think it might be the wholesalers who are hurting more than the big brewers, at least if they don't have a strong craft/import portfolio, which is true of some AB wholesalers in particular.

                                                The wonder of craft/imports is that a case takes the same space on the truck and delivers twice the margin dollars of a case of domestic beer. Plus, the segment is growing.

                                                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                                  I don't know about where you are, Jim, but I've observed a very steady takeover of cold case space by craft/imported beer even in mainstream stores like Safeway. Used to be there would be about 80-90% BMC on the shelves, now its closer to 50-50. I think that speaks volumes about consumers acquiring a taste for more flavorful brew.

                                                  1. re: chuckl

                                                    I think your observation might be where certain stores serve specific demographics. In LA, one can run the course of 80-90% BMC down to maybe 10% BMC and everything in between. It just depends on what neighborhood one is shopping in.At the same time, I have observed a huge uptick in craft brews at our local Pavillions - the same Pavillions that just a couple of years ago that I damned for having such a crappy beer selection. There's no doubt that craft brews and craft-like brews are gaining popularity, and I think this has to do with the economy getting better in certain areas.

                                                    1. re: bulavinaka

                                                      I think its great to see stores converting to more craft beers, but I'm starting to see a disturbing trend with some local stores that have recently converted - no shelf tags with pricing on bottles or on shelf tags - as if all craft beer costs similar like the macros they have been dealing with in the past and I wouldn't care as long as they carried "my brand". Spoke to the managers at these stores and they don't seem to think its important (yet every single bottle of wine or liquor is priced) and don't understand why I can't just ask for the price on something I'm interested in. Just not getting the craft buyer - yet anyway - I guess the market will figure that one out and they will either adapt or go back to the macroland they know when they can't "sell" craft beer.

                                                      And I found it extemely funny that one store - who proudly advertised being "your malternative headquaters" just two summers ago and just recently expanded their craft selection - has a beer guy who thought SN Bigfoot was a wine when I asked last year if they carried it, is now all in my face trying to recommend some high margin craft bombers to me and trying to teach me the basics of beer styles.

                                                      1. re: LStaff

                                                        Well at least the guy who didn't know SN has learned a thing or two and is trying. There are still so many places that dont give a sh** and have no clue. A crucial issue is proper storage, that means no beer on top of coolers and lower the lights in those coolers as well...Hey, customer it's 1976, less taste is really big right now.....

                                                        1. re: MOREKASHA

                                                          Another issue is inventory that doesn't move so that two (or more) year old bottles are still on shelves.