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Cheers Weekly
Is Big Beer the Future of Craft?
By Mike Nickerson and Brooke Edge

When we initially fielded research on people’s tastes, attitudes and preferences in the craft beer category, we expected to learn or validate much of what’s already been discovered. Yes, people are suffering a bit from hop overdose. Fruit sours are growing in popularity. People increasingly treat craft beers like wine, pairing them with food. Consumers often discover new craft beers upon recommendation of bartenders and friends, so you need bar staff relations and social media programs to spread the word. Our research backs these trends up, but the question was — were there any surprises? Just one.
When we asked consumers the fundamental question about how they defined craft beer, we were surprised.
Conventional wisdom has been that most consumers consider craft beer to be created by small/regional brewers. When Coors rolled out Blue Moon, it was no accident that they attributed Keith Villa’s creation to tiny Sandlot Brewing Company and applied the timely discipline to not execute “Red, Light and Blue” displays for Fourth of July (Killian’s Irish Red, Coors Light and Blue Moon).
Blue Moon kept an arms length distance from the Coors portfolio for years to grow as a “discovery beer” until the cat was fully out of the bag. At the time, smart marketing strategy was to let the beer build a fan base without the credibility baggage of coming from a mega brewer. So what’s changed, and how might that impact craft brewing?
Research shows that, increasingly, the craft consumer thinks of craft beer in terms of small batch and quality ingredients. The majority of respondents to our research listed these as the defining factors of craft. Nearly six times as many responses defined craft beer as small batch rather than small brewery.
This shouldn’t be surprising. Spirit distillers have for some years been executing “single barrel” or “small batch” SKUs. The rarity of bourbon from a single barrel, its unique characteristics (and some good marketing) have helped make small batch or limited edition brands desirable while presenting a “halo effect” to the distillers. That’s the opportunity that larger brewers may be missing.

Big Beer & Craft
Unsurprisingly, as craft beer popularity has grown, Big Beer has bought significant stakes in craft brewers. Regional favorites like Goose Island, Terrapin, Hop Valley, Devil’s Backbone and Ballast Point all made headlines thanks to buying sprees by InBev, MillerCoors and Constellation.
As a result, some folks insist that such beers are no longer “craft,” but “crafty.” The Brewers Association defines craft brewers as “small, traditional and independent,” and that to be a craft brewer requires producing fewer than 6 million bbl and 25% or less ownership by a “non-craft brewer.” Our research, however, shows growing consumer disregard for those definitions.
Slane Irish Whiskey Now Available in U.S.
Slane Irish Whiskey is a brand new offering in the fast-growing category from Brown-Forman and the Conyngham family of Slane, Ireland. Brown-Forman has been making whiskey in the U.S. since 1870, while the Conyngham’s date back more than three centuries in Slane.
I recently spoke to Brown-Forman VP of Innovation John Hudson about the launch. The company’s investment included building a new distillery in Slane, which is the first time the company has built a facility from scratch outside the U.S.

Buffalo Trace recently opened its “Bourbon Pompeii Tour,” which will allow visitors to explore two portions of its
E.H. Taylor distillery built in the 1800s that have not been previously open to the public.

Business Intelligence Director
Wholesaler: Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits
Location:Syosset, NY
Requirements: Five-plus years in Business Intelligence, Analytics or Sales Forecasting; Master’s Degree preferred.


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