Craft beer is a classic example of history repeating itself; what’s old is new once again.
What started for many people as a hobby enjoyed in individual garages and basements surged into the cultural mainstream as more people learned they loved to raise a glass with something other than the typical six-pack of beer.
Strong growth numbers for craft brewing
The craft brewing business boomed even during tough economic times. Over the last decade, the industry experienced unprecedented growth. In 2015, the craft beer sales market increased 15 percent to a total of $22.3 billion, according to the Brewers Association annual report. Total barrel production rose to 24.5 million in 2015 compared to only 10.1 million barrels back in 2010.
As of 2015, the number of United States’ craft breweries stood at 4,225 — compared to 1,754 locations just five years before.
‘Art form’ combines modern taste and nostalgia
Craft brewers and industry experts attribute the industry’s nationwide success to an interesting paradox in today’s culture: people’s modern tastes combined with a growing need to connect with our past.
Los Angeles-based marketing research company IBISWorld released a report in August 2015 highlighting craft beer’s diversity as a critical element to its rising popularity.
“The craft beer production industry brews virtually all styles of beer and regularly experiments with different ingredients to create variant styles of beer,” the IBISWorld report states. “As a result, the industry’s range of products is diverse.”
Craft beer brewers work with a variety of flavor profiles, including chocolate, vanilla, citrus (lemon, grapefruit), coffee, chai and much more. Combining these flavors requires a special touch.
“It really is an art form,” explained Eric Elliot, owner for Ellison Brewing + Spirits in Lansing, Michigan. “This is because it is so time consuming and takes so much creative energy to come up with different flavors and tastes. You have to anticipate what the local customer is going to want.”
Rather than having eyes on the big prize of national distribution, many craft brewers understand the need to tap into their community’s preferences to continue their business’ growth.
According to a 2015 Nielsen Marketing research study , consumers’ desire for locally sourced beer is on the rise.
“Consumers' desire to search for and buy local is growing,” the report found. “Among all alcoholic beverage categories, local has grown in importance the most among beer drinkers. In fact, 22 percent of beer drinkers said they think the importance of being made locally has grown over the last couple of years, compared with 14 percent of wine drinkers and only 5 percent of spirit drinkers.”
Elliot said he’s noticed this market shift and emphasizes its importance to craft brewing.
“You’ve really got to engage in the conversation with local customers,” Elliot continued. ‘Hyper-local’ is such a huge, powerful word. These big brewers are spending so much time and energy trying to expand across the country, yet they are forgetting about connecting with customers. How are customers going to feel a tie to a particular brand on a 7-Eleven shelf with something like that?”
Elliot believes the public has connected so much with craft breweries and taprooms because they recapture a piece of community history.
“There was something lost during the prohibition-era when local pubs shut down, and I think today’s market is trying to capture that,” he said. “There is something to be said about our history. As busy as today’s world is, the public is just looking for someplace to call its own. They want to identify and feel welcome somewhere.”
In the end, the allure of craft beer boils down to something beyond market trends and industry statistics for Elliot.
“People want to make good memories. They want to feel a sense of nostalgia when they have a beer.” he concluded. “It’s that simple.”