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.
Brewers tap into local demand for direction
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.
Tristan White, founder and manager of the Dragoon Brewery Company in Tucson, Arizona, said variety is important in his business.
“We offer only two beers all year long, Dragoon IPA and Stronghold Session Ale,” he explained. “The rest of our products are seasonal and specialty beers. We try to keep things different and respond to our customers’ feedback.”
For example, Dragoon Brewing Company’s current seasonal beer, Saison Blue, has blue corn and blue agave nectar blended with traditional American and European hops to create an original brew.
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.”
White said he’s noticed this market shift and emphasizes its importance to craft brewing.
“Focusing on local food and drink, supporting local businesses, it just makes sense,” White said. “Why would you want to go outside of the state when there are plenty of people in Arizona looking for local beers? People like knowing where their food and drink come from — it helps them feel closer to the process and product.”
Finally, White believes people connect so much with craft breweries and taprooms because they help solidify community identity.
“The public sees the local brewery or taproom as a symbol of friendship, a place they can get together and enjoy a drink and their friends. They want to know who’s behind it all. For instance, we do our own social media because we want our customers to know someone local is running things, not an outsider or someone not personally invested in our product. They know the difference and it matters.”