The Search for Authenticity

good people brewery and taproom

There are so many choices today. More than consumers need.

Throughout bottle shops and grocery stores, shelves are stacked with more beer brands and styles than ever before. Each one calling to us, shouting for attention. Intricate names and designs adorn labels, begging for a ride with you to the promised land of a checkout lane.

But in a niche world where so many characteristics are used to catch our eyes and sway our opinion, one common denominator still rises above the chaos: the search for authenticity.

Customers want it and companies want to create it, whether through words on a bottle or can or ads that showcase beer brewed the hard way, artfully crafted, or one that pairs well with people.

For as much as this war is being waged for tap handles and shelf space, there’s one unifying place where a battle is being won.

It’s your neighborhood brewery.

A glance at the most recent statistical report on beer by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau shows production of beer in several categories is roughly on par with last year, including kegs, bottles and cans. However, one area stands out quite a bit.

The exact reported numbers, to put that in perspective:

June 2014 June 2015 Change
Taxable barrels sold at breweries 138,118 224,324  62.4%
Jan. 1 through June 2014 Jan. 1 through June 2015 Change
Taxable barrels sold at breweries 287,965 422,561  46.7%

Last fall, Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, wrote about the rise of the taproom. Using Florida as an example, he showcased the increase of direct to consumer sales, as told through gallons sold at manufacturing locations, aka breweries:

Micro-graph-2

“This makes it pretty clear what is going on in the marketplace,” he wrote. “Brewpub sales are fairly flat (though they are up nationally), whereas sales directly from manufacturers to beer lovers (aka micro tap rooms) are booming.”

And why not? Part of the reason is certainly volume. As the industry adds hundreds of breweries each year – many smaller outfits focused on local sales – it makes sense that more beer is purchased at those locations. That’s not even counting the rise of family-friendly breweries, which may offer an appropriate hangout spot in lieu of a bar.

But even more so, “own-premise” consumption of beer directly where it’s made feeds a growing need for a truer experience for a consumer. Beer lovers want experiences that provide a sense of place – especially Millennials – and what better locale than where their alcoholic drink of choice is created? If consumers expect their beer to be reflective of their own personality, its source and all stories and community it builds is perfect.

Additionally, a recent Harris Poll indicated the marketing success of language choice when it comes to how adults perceive a mark of quality based on what we call a product:

  • “Handmade/handcrafted” – 59%
  • “Artisan/artisanal” – 46%
  • “Custom” – 46%
  • “Craft” – 44%
  • “Limited edition” – 41%
  • “Small batch” – 31%

A thesaurus may come in handy in this regard, but again, the theme connecting these words offers an impression of something “local” or “special” … perhaps, “authentic?”

But it’s not just consumers.

“I would rather spend my money in getting people to walk in my front door than I would to get somebody in Nebraska to buy my beer,” Colorado’s Twisted Pine Brewing Co. president Bob Baile told the Denver Post.

Which makes sense. If Baile wanted consumers to get the true “experience” of Twisted Pine, he’d urge customers to visit his taproom or go on a tour to show exactly what his business is about. (Certainly, it’s also more cost-efficient than Nebraskans buying his beer.)

Drinkers are agreeing. For as much as we talk about our beer as a product, it’s more than that, which is why it’s so often put into context of with whom or where we share it.

A search for authenticity may start with us as individuals, but increasingly it ends with each other, together, at a place.

Related reading: Bottling Authenticity by Jon at The Drinking Classes

Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

Header photo of Good People Brewing Company taproom via prweb.com.

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15 thoughts on “The Search for Authenticity

  1. I’m not surprised by the statistics showing a boom in brewery sales, but its nice to see the real numbers. Great work as usual. It’s interesting to see a distinction between brewery tap rooms and brewpubs though, because in both cases the beer is made on premises and therefore authentic. Factors like being served by the brewer, and the more casual laid back atmosphere may make it seem more “special”, I know I tend to feel that way.

    • A good point. I realize I’m generalizing, but brewpubs certainly have a separate kind of “feel” compared to a straight taproom simply because of their dual purpose. A taproom – even a super tiny one – offers little buffer to the full “experience,” or something of that sort.

      Most of all, that service can definitely go a long way!

  2. I thin part of the phenomenon here is that breweries can do more of what they do best at a tap room, rather than also having run a full blown restaurant as a brewpub must. The restaurant business has a high failure rate. Now with the growth of food trucks, new breweries have a lot less overhead to manage, and don’t to get heavily involved in difficult enterprises simply to continue to brew beer. For a lot less investment, the “tap room and food truck” offers consumers a similar experience. It’s also worth noting lots of tap rooms in the SF Bay Area do quite well without any food trucks.

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