Beer is Suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder

Since 2009, Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing has been producing Maiden the Shade, a “summer IPA” created to help celebrate an annual fair.

It recently received a new look, bringing it to my attention for the first time, thanks to East Coast selection bias and that peskiness of distribution. I can say nothing for the beer, having never had it, but the forethought of that brand sure caught my attention. In recent years, the prescience of the Pacific Northwest in regard to beer and love of all things hop seems like a future that had long been planned, but perhaps America’s love affair with IPA wasn’t always a guaranteed thing.

Either way, the idea of a “summer IPA” sounds pretty damned smart right about now.

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Will Legal Marijuana Impact Beer Sales?

cannibis-beer-plant

“Beer is art”

It’s something you’ve likely heard at some point in time. If you’re like me, there’s even a good chance that sipping on an otherworldly creation from malt and hops has made you feel that way.

But beer is also just beer.

Sometimes, it’s something to be savored. Sometimes, it’s the means to a relaxed end. In that regard, it’s only one of many ways to catch a buzz. For some states, however, the threat of what wine and spirits steal from beer may also be padded by legalized marijuana.

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How Big Craft Breweries Are Keeping Share of Mind – and Pint Glass

Back in December 2015, I wrote about an important pivot “legacy” breweries were being forced to make as the beer market continued to diversify, led by many of the smaller and more agile breweries.

Examples like Dogfish Head, Founders and Highland – an NC brewery with Mid-Atlantic footprint – were all businesses that had been around for a while. Looking at their 2016 production schedules, something seemed clear: they were trying to find more ways to keep attention on their brands. That meant new products, new packaging and a new pattern of beer releases to keep things fresh and interesting for drinkers.

“In any industry, businesses run the risk of falling behind if they don’t innovate and experiment,” I wrote. “Considering the incredible growth in beer over the last few years, this feels doubly so.”

If anything, what we’ve seen since that initial post has only reinforced this necessary action for long-tenured breweries. No surprise, they’re the ones big enough to heavily influence the supermarket numbers mentioned above in Kate’s tweet.

In some ways, 2016 has been very kind to breweries like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, but there’s always another side to the story.

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The High ABV Beer is Dead! Long Live High ABV!

tombstone header

Lagers make a comeback. Session IPAs steal share from their imperialized counterparts. Dogs live with cats!

It’s mass hysteria.

Or, at least, if you’re ready to buy into the latest publicized trend in beer by market research company Mintel, who noted the rise of high ABV beers in recent years. According to their estimate, just 6.6 percent of new beers globally were “high strength” in the early 2000s at an ABV above 6.5 percent. But in recent years, that’s jumped significantly:

  • 2012: 14 percent
  • 2013: 25 percent
  • 2014: 23 percent

Keep in mind those percentages reflect a global growth with new breweries opening nearly every day, so in America in 2013, it could be 25 percent of beers created by the 2,456 and then in 2014 it’s 23 percent from 2,917 breweries, per Brewers Association estimates.

“A potential backlash against this [high strength] trend is almost inevitable because there is far too much high ABV innovation happening,” said Jonny Forsyth, global drinks analyst for Mintel. “Beer remains fundamentally a volume and refreshment beverage and high ABV beers quickly take modern health-conscious consumers over the recommended limit.”

While it’s true beer’s success is partially driven by an opportunity for volume-based consumption, it feels a bit risky to contend that a backlash is on its way, especially when high-ABV beers are widely considered some of the best you can find. For example, look at the alcohol by volume of RateBeer’s top twenty-five best beers from their “Best Beer” lists covering 2006 to 2015:

top 25 avg ABV

Among the items RateBeer prides itself on is its global user base. Glancing at the website’s top user rankings, it’s easy to see that potential fans for these best beers are coming from all over.

So perhaps reports of high ABV’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

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Reporter’s Notebook: Ohio and Craft Beer

beer notebook_web2

This week I shared a post focusing on the interesting case of Ohio, which has become a surprising hot spot for craft beer. Consumer demand is way up in the Buckeye State, where supermarkets, bottle shops and distributors are seeing strong enough growth to liken some Ohio cities to beer destinations like Portland and San Diego.

In my reporting for the piece, I reached out to many people in Ohio to gain better context for some of the trends I was paying attention to from afar in North Carolina. While I was able to fit many details into Wednesday’s post, I wanted to share additional content that didn’t make the piece, but is interesting and important all the same.

So let’s flip back the cover and see what scribbled notes are worth another look.

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Buckeye Beer: Is It Time to Pay More Attention to Ohio?

ohio-beer-header

Lately, it seems we’re reminded almost daily about craft brewery growth. Whether it’s anecdotal evidence from our local paper or the hardened fact that we’re on pace for 1.5 breweries to open every day.

But sometimes the success of this sector of the beer industry can surprise you, especially in “emerging markets” for those of us looking in from the outside. All around us, local interest for beer is frothing over and the supply is meeting new demand.

Which led me over the last six months to wonder: what’s up with Ohio?

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Trend Watching: Are Craft Lagers Destined To Be ‘A Thing’?

trend arrow beer

Just like any other industry, beer and its community are influenced.

Whether it’s a flash in a pan fad or an honest to goodness trend, the ideas that impact people who create and consume beer can have lasting impacts. Then there are behemoths like the IPA – now making up roughly a quarter of craft beer sales – a style which just a few years ago seemed like a trend until it starting setting its own sub-trends with double IPAs and session IPAs and whatever India’d style you can dream of.

We’re always looking for that Next Big Thing that’s going to start something new, gazing into metaphorical crystal balls with hope of understanding what will next be poured into our glass. For Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, that answer is lager:

Going booth to booth at the recent craft brewer pavilion at the National Grocers Association show, nearly every brewer had a great pilsner. Some were brands that have been around for a while, but there were plenty of new additions. Those new entries are combining with longer-term brands to create new excitement around pilsners.

Even if January sales of pilsners were up 56 percent in 2015 compared to the same month in 2014, the big question to ask isn’t just whether “excitement” equates to groundswell of a trend, but also do American drinkers want this trend in the first place?

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Two Charts to Show the Changing Fate of Big Beer

american-flag beer lineup

In what has become an annual tradition, 24/7 Wall Street released their list of “beers Americans no longer drink” this week, sparking no outrage or surprise for beer enthusiasts around the country.

This year’s list includes beers that may leave you scratching your head wondering why people still bother, but while distribution networks are large for Big Beer, the sales of these beers are not.

The 2014 list, which represents “barrels shipped” in 2013, includes home run hitters like Budweiser Select, Milwaukee’s Best and even Budweiser itself. Of biggest surprise is the inclusion of Miller High Life and Miller Lite, both which hadn’t appeared in earlier versions of this list.

For our visually-minded friends, I’ve gone back to the previous four lists and charted the downward course of six of these beers that appear in multiple years. Worth noting, 24/7 Wall Street counted “barrels sold” in the lists covering 2010 to 2012 and changed it to “barrels shipped” for 2013. For sake of argument, let’s just assume all the barrels shipped were sold, even if this is based on figures from a piece about beers nobody wants to drink.

First, here are beers represented on the list brewed by parent company MillerCoors:

MillerCoors chart

And here are beers made by parent company AB InBev:

AB InBev chart

Not pictured in these charts, Miller High Life and Miller Lite (MillerCoors), who lost 21.2 percent and 22.6 percent in sales from 2008 to 2013, respectively. Miller Lite won’t be on this list next year, thanks a boost in sales from its retro label rebranding.

Budweiser, which has lost 27.6 percent of sales from 2008 to 2013, was down to 16 million barrels shipped last year. No surprise, given that Millennials don’t care for it.

All of these brands are obviously huge, with the smallest tally in 2013 coming from Budweiser Select. Even at 525,000 barrels shipped in 2013, that was still roughly 76 percent more than what Lagunitas sold in the same year.

So what does this all mean?

By now, we all know the gimmicks multinational companies are taking to rebrand and gain attention. AB InBev has made news lately for buying craft breweries, which is certainly good for its future prospects, but I’m mostly curious about MillerCoors.

That company seemingly dominates this “beers Americans don’t drink” list year-in and year-out, but does get a decent bounce from owning brands like Blue Moon and Leinenkugel Brewing Company, which both sell very well.

I do take this showing as a paring with the idiotic comments made by MillerCoors chairman Pete Coors, however, and wonder what kind of necessary innovation is on the horizon for the company. In terms of stock, MillerCoors is doing alright, but Miller Fortune hasn’t performed as gangbusters as they expected and do you remember the failure that was Miller Chill? Maybe hard ciders Crispin and Smith & Forge are their best bets moving forward, along with their continued push of a reinvigorated Miller Lite.

Above all else, these two charts showcase why craft beer had another consecutive banner year and why companies like MillerCoors and AB InBev are on the hunt for ways to get into the craft game.

Related: He Said What? Pete Coors and His Magical Mystery Press Tour

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

Identity Crisis: The Rita-ization of Heineken

heineken blurWhile beer enthusiasts the world over this week may have been decrying the threat of an AB InBev takeover bid of its main rival, SABMiller, a secondary detail to this story seems just as important.

An AB InBev buy of SABMiller, the first and second-largest beer companies in the world, respectively, has been rumored for what feels like years, but it was SABMiller’s attempt to takeover Heineken (#3 in the world) that kicked off this latest round of “will they or won’t they” between AB InBev and SABMiller. As the Wall Street Journal reported, SABMiller wanted Heineken in an attempt to bolster their company’s size and become an even major player globally.

So as people may wonder what will happen between the two biggest Big Beer players of them all, I’m left thinking … why did Heineken spurn the advances of SABMiller?

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Is the Fastest-Growing Domestic Beer a Key for Beer Marketing?

michelob key hole

Despite ongoing problems with going up against the craft beer sector here in the U.S., AB InBev recently announced it had an OK start to the fiscal year.

In fact, its three core brands – Budweiser, Corona and Stella Artois – actually grew 8.3 percent gobally. It’s just that the company is still having a rough time here at home.

But all is not lost.

In one of those “blink and you’ll miss it” occasions, Michelob Ultra is riding a hell of a wave in sales right now – one that is now into its third year. From 2011 into May 2014, AB InBev-owned Michelob Ultra has seen sales growth of 10.3 percent or more each year. That’s a trend, even if it is easy to ignore as craft beers fly off the shelves.

While Michelob Ultra won’t ever knock off Bud Light as the top-selling domestic beer brand, it is currently the fastest-growing large domestic beer brand at a time when our attention is appropriately focused on the innovation of craft.

In today’s beer industry, I realize that sounds like Michelob Ultra is the senior captain on a high school’s JV football team, but it still counts for something, right?

Even more so, the way this has happened for Michelob Ultra suggests this kind of growth may be sustainable and could even be taken as a “best practice” for others.

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