Author: Malin Norman
The American craft beer market is an inspiration to brewers and beer lovers around the world. In order to better understand its characteristics, we have talked to Lotte Peplow, American Craft Beer Ambassador for Europe at the Brewers Association (interview on 24 April 2020).
How would you describe the US beer market?
Pioneering, diverse, innovative and ground-breaking are just some of the words that spring to mind when describing the US craft beer market. Forty years ago there were fewer than 50 American craft brewers. The US market as we now know it was non-existent and not tied to any one tradition or brewing history. This allowed American craft brewers to pioneer the movement from scratch. While American craft beer was very much inspired by the great brewing nations overseas, innovative brewers weren’t seeking to replicate them but to create their own styles that would redefine American beer beyond the traditional, mass-produced lager. From there the American craft beer revolution was born and the variety of high quality, full-flavoured beers being produced by the 8,386 small and independent American craft breweries is unparalleled anywhere in the world.
Demand for new and exciting styles like American IPA, barrel-aged beers and well-made classics continues to grow both domestically and internationally. In 2019 sales of craft beer were at an all-time high with small and independent American craft breweries producing 26.3million barrels of beer, representing 4% total growth and increasing craft’s overall beer market share by volume to 13.6%. American craft brewers continue to lead the global craft beer movement in terms of innovation and the development of new flavours that steer away from traditional styles.
What has been the success factor?
One of the main reasons for the success of the American craft beer industry in just a few short decades is proximity to the freshest examples of highly sought-after hop varieties. The introduction of the Cascade hop in the early 1970s was a seminal moment for craft brewing as its complex, fruit-forward, full-flavour helped change the way American beer was perceived. Brewers are able to visit the hop fields and develop flavour profiles that are difficult to match elsewhere. Combine quality/freshness of raw materials with brewing expertise and you’ll understand why American craft beer is renowned for quality the world over, a fact that is borne out by the number of medals and top honours American craft beer wins at high profile international beer competitions. The Brewers Association continues to work with the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service (USDA ARS) hop breeding programme to fund development of a public hop breeding programme to develop and release disease resistant aroma hop cultivars in support of hop growing efforts throughout the U.S.
As the domestic market has grown, so too has awareness and demand for American craft beer from overseas. Despite increasing competition from local markets there is still a place for high quality, imported American craft beer in Europe because discerning beer lovers do not limit themselves to one style or one country. They like to explore and discover new tastes and flavours from all over the world. We find that American craft beer and domestic beer complement each other and one lifts sales of the other.
What trends can you see?
IPAs still reign supreme and account for approximately one third of all craft beer sales in America. They come in a variety of iterations and strengths and are a platform for innovation in their own right. We also continue to see growth in lighter and more sessionable styles and expect these lighter styles to continue growing as an aging craft consumer demographic increasingly reaches for easy drinking styles to balance out stronger beer. The top five growing American craft beer styles for 2019 as per the latest research (IRI) are: American IPA, Imperial IPA, American Lager, Other IPA, and Blonde Ale.
The average consumer, outside of those really engaged in the beer community, doesn’t always think in styles, they think in flavours. Research conducted for the Brewers Association (Harris/Nielsen May 2019) shows that female craft drinkers are looking for styles that are crisp, fruity or juicy/hazy whereas male craft drinkers are seeking out dark and malty beers. Younger drinkers (aged 21-34), which is often an indicator of future trends, are increasingly seeking out tart flavours, as well as hoppy or malty beers while older drinkers (35-44) are interested in dark, juicy/hazy or spicy beers.
IPAs will continue to proliferate. American brewers love hops and this is not going to change any time soon. In terms of other styles, it’s worth checking with your local bottle shop or on-line retailer as to what’s available. The chances are you’ll find something interesting that you haven’t tried before. There has never been a more exciting time to be a beer lover!
For more information about the Brewers Association: www.brewersassociation.org
Pictures: Nic Crilly-Hargrave, The Brewers Association