How to Sell Beer in 2017

beer-shelf

It’s a tough time to be a “big” brewer.

AB InBev and MillerCoors continue to watch as flagship brands slowly decline in sales, but some legacy craft breweries are suffering as well. Sales of Sierra Nevada’s Pale Ale (2.8 percent) and Torpedo IPA (2.3 percent) are down. Sam Adams continues to face a free fall for Boston Lager, declining nearly 12 percent in 2016.

Diagnosing the problem points to a host of symptoms, from longtime brands going stale among consumers who always want something new to the rise in importance of what’s “local.”

“If [consumers] have two [beers] they feel are equal, and one’s local and one’s not local, that’s an important part to the decision for two-thirds of craft purchasers,” Brewers Association economist Bart Watson recently mentioned at a Brewbound Session in San Diego.

So what are these Big Boys of beer to do? Follow the lead of their smaller, more nimble competition.

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Zymurgy’s “Best Beers” List Loves Hops, Clings to Heritage Brands

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Death, taxes and Pliny the Elder being voted as Zymurgy’s “best beer” in America. All the things you can count on for the past eight years.

In fact, to see any change at the top of this list, you’d have to go all the way back to 2009, the last year the top-two beers *weren’t* Pliny (#1) and Bell’s Two Hearted (#2).

What makes the annual poll unique, however, is that it’s voted on by members of the American Homebrewers Association, not the public at-large from around the world, like Beer Advocate or RateBeer. On that point of information alone, you can surmise why Zymurgy’s list always includes unforgettable heritage brands made by the likes of Sierra Nevada and Dogfish Head. In just about any other scenario, beers made by these breweries are long past their expiration date of relevance to the Beer Nerds controlling review boards. Not so much on this year’s list – again.

BUT … the results are still similar in at least one way: these voters love their IPAs. More than 18,000 online votes cast with up to 20 allowed per voter picked the favorite commercial beers available for purchase in the United States.

Let’s see what’s trending.

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Tracking the Evolution of American IPA

united staes of hops

It says a lot about our country’s love for all things hop, considering how easy it is for us to talk about it.

(Flips through dozens of posts on this blog)

A week ago, the folks at Willamette Week did a Portland, Oregon-based IPA taste test to determine the best in Beervana, USA. The winners? Beers “influenced by Heady Topper, Julius and Sculpin, beers that present hops as a reward rather than a challenge.”

That got me thinking.

Then Jeff Alworth chimed in, sharing some excellent insight and expertise as to why the best IPAs in Portland are more influenced by aroma and taste than bitterness.

Which got me thinking some more.

In our natural evolution as a beer drinking country, it seems our manifest destiny to have arrived at this place, where the hop is king and we are continuously searching for more ways to celebrate our love of lupulin, albeit in a different way than we did five, 10 and especially 20 years ago.

So why have our collective tastes shifted from biting bitterness to flavorful concoctions? Let’s think about this together.

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‘Legacy’ Breweries and the Fight for Attention in 2016

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A little yin and yang as we close out the year:

  • In 2015, Blue Moon, which popularized Belgian wheat beers in the U.S., saw its White IPA become a top-3 selling new beer brand.
  • Meanwhile, the fastest growing beer for Dogfish Head, known for its IPAs, was a Belgian white-style beer, Namaste.

It was that kind of year for the industry’s most “off-centered” brewer.

This past year was the slowest in growth for Dogfish in over a decade, although revenue and barrelage still increased. Founder Sam Calagione noted the reasons surrounded a refusal to discount beers and entering no new markets. All the same, changes are afoot for 2016, and it’s not just because of an influx of money from a private equity stake in the company.

Dogfish recently released its updated production calendar for 2016, which includes slight shifts in production for their 21st year that also reflects changes among their peers. When others are winning at Dogfish’s game – whether that’s with IPAs or extreme beers – it’s time to shake things up.

After all, Calagione is the guy, who just over a year ago, said the industry was heading into an incredibly competitive era of craft brewing.

Or rather, he so famously remarked, “There’s a bloodbath coming.”

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We are More Than Beer, Beer is More Than Us

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There’s an undeniable truth I have needed to come to terms with in recent years, despite what my loving mother and father may tell me otherwise.

I will never be the most famous Bryan Roth, let alone the most famous within a 12-mile radius.

That honor probably goes to Bryan Roth, professor in the Department of Pharmacology at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, literally down the road from where I live.

There’s also Bryan Roth, co-founder of Geocaching HQ, which popularized the adventurous activity of finding hidden items placed all over the world.

There is also Bryan Roth, the poetfootball star and highlight reel lacrosse player.

Somewhere along the line, there’s also me, Bryan Roth, the beer lover.

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Copy Cat: A ‘Best Beer’ List Loves IPAs, ABV. Again.

blue-ribbon_best_beers

Last week, Zymurgy, the official publication of the American Homebrewers Association, released its latest update to its annual “Best Beers in America” list.

The compilation of top-50 beers, voted on every year by readers of the magazine, typically stands out slightly from other such lists from Beer Advocate or RateBeer because of general lack of imperial stouts, which so often dominate other polls. There were seven this year and one imperial porter.

Despite that difference, Zymurgy’s voters do have one thing in common with just about any other “best beer” list you’d find – they love IPAs.

zymurgy best beers-ipa and dipa

After last year’s dissection of Zymurgy’s list, I took additional data with hope to better analyze the outcome of historical votes, offering context to any shifting preferences and patterns from over the years.

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My Mount Rushmore of Beer

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Set high above our bars and breweries, sculpted in the granite of personal history, lies a metaphorical place that stands the test of time as a “shrine of beerocracy.”

It’s Mount Rushmore … only my repurposed symbol of fermented freedom. No longer do Washington, Jefferson, Roosevelt and Lincoln emblazon its side, but rather my own heroes, representing the people who have shaped my past and influenced my future with beer.

Today, along with a collection of fellow Mid-Atlantic beer bloggers, I’m sharing who should be remembered for the impact they’ve made on my beer drinking world. So let me introduce you to the dignitaries of my Mount Rushmore … of beer.

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Finding Perspective, Before It’s Lost Again

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Forgetting is easy.

There are so many people, places and events that fill our lives, the memory-soaked sponge of our brain can become overwhelmingly saturated with worthwhile moments to recall. For me, that means an occasional, often unintentional, mental squeeze that too easily releases aspects of the past down the drain. Out of sight, perhaps out of mind.

Which is part of the reason I moisturize my metaphorical gray matter every year … by literally dehydrating it.

group shotIt’s all based around an annual tradition of a “beergrimage,” a trip I make to Dogfish Head’s original brewpub in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. What started as a way to explore the roots of my craft beer obsession four years ago has wonderfully turned into an excuse to appreciate the people who help fuel my ever-growing interest.

There is no slight of hand in understanding what the base-level purpose of the trip is about. We are there to eat, drink and be merry.

cody and justinBut as these things tend to do, the incredibly tasty, fermented means to our drunken end provides more than the food on our plate or liquid in our glass.

The beer we drink is part illusion. When revealed, the mirage winds up showing the value of restocking on those forgotten memories pushed out of my brain. Friends – old and new – become closer, nudged together by a shared experience of camaraderie.

At a time when the world of beer enthusiasts is overcome with controversies of copyright infringementhonoring the legacy of peers or naming rights, it feels important to make time for an outing like this.

Because when I squeeze the spongy mess of my brain to recall these memories at a later date, it reinforces what this beer thing is supposed to be about in the first place: fun.

group pic

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

(photos courtesy of Oliver Gray and Liz Murphy)

A Year in ‘Drunkenness’

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This post is the 409th I’ve written at This Is Why I’m Drunk. In truth, I never thought I’d make it this far.

It was an experiment, you see. A trial of writing concocted in the laboratory of my mind and harnessed at my fingertips, where verbal ingredients mix together in a simple exercise of prose. It was all supposed to be nothing more than a running diary that nobody ever saw.

Then I figured out what this all was: a therapeutic mechanism torn from the web of the Internet. It was an opportunity to not just release my thoughts, but hone them and make them better and more sound.

And you came along, too.

2014 has been an incredible year for me personally and professionally and this blog is a big part of that. I know I say it often, but I can’t echo it enough, thank you for being a part of it.

This post is my 95th of this year. The 95th chance to test myself creatively and intellectually. It was a good reason to look back at the other 94 pieces of content I’ve offered in 2014 and give consideration to all that’s happened to me and the beer industry.

So today I offer you an abbreviated look back at what I consider to be some of the more important work I’ve done this year, picking highlights from each month along the way. There are things I completely forgot about, so chances are it’ll be new to you, too.

For you, dear reader, a year gone ‘bye.’ A year in ‘drunkenness.’

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Stretching Your Dollar: Is Elasticity Craft Beer’s Biggest Threat?

Beer_Bottle-stretch

Every story started deserves an ending.

Remember my last post and the inner struggle between a local beer and national one? The difference of a couple bucks was enough. In lieu of a beer brewed within a short driving distance, I bought the new Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, made with Neomexicanus hops. The price certainly helped, but the promised experience of enjoying a beer created with what is essentially “experimental” (read: new) hops pushed me over the edge.

Also, I’m still not buying the $11 bottle of “imperial amber ale” brewed several miles from where I type this.

At the core of my decision was the reason I’ve become so adamant for craft beer in the first place – quality and variety. As Greg Engert recently pointed out, we shouldn’t let the sole idea of “drinking local” cloud that search:

We began by decrying the lack of variety, the lack of quality, and the lack of full-flavored drinking experiences offered by the industrial lager. Now, the desire to drink local brews has reached a fever pitch, often blinding publicans and craft beer drinkers alike from what should ultimately guide our choices: Is the beer of the highest quality? Is it bereft of off-flavors? Is it delicious? In short, is it superlative and memorable?

This is especially important when considering today’s beer consumer is focused on aspects of variety and new experiences. So what does this have to do with how we spend our money, anyway?

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