Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

March 10, 2013

Beer Diary:

Bitter World

An IPA-heavy list of the 30 most purchased craft beers.
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
So a few years ago I signed up for some email list somewhere out there in the interneverse, and every since I’ve been getting random emails from some craft beer stats tracking service with information about trends in U.S. craft beer sales. Not being a statistician, mathematician, or any kind of tician, I usually can’t make hide nor hair of these multi-colored graphs, charts, gizmos, and weedads. In fact, I can’t state with any sort of definitiveness that I know what “year-over-year” means in this context, or any kind of context. Good thing I don’t have a job and don’t have to figure out how to pay taxes. You don’t have to report an allowance, do you?

Anyway, this last random email I got actually intrigued me enough to get me to study it for more than three seconds, and not only did I understand what it was saying, I found a few interesting things to note about the most recent sales stats from the Symphony IRI Group. In case you’re a complete dullard and don’t know what this company does off the top of your head, they track and compile sales figures based on brands and categories for the grocery industry. And this is their list of the top 30 craft brands based on dollars sales in U.S. super markets.

  1. Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  2. Samuel Adams Boston Lager
  3. Samuel Adams Seasonal
  4. New Belgium Fat Tire Amber Ale
  5. Samuel Adams Variety Pack
  6. Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
  7. Shiner Bock
  8. Sierra Nevada Seasonal
  9. New Belgium Ranger IPA
  10. Widmer Hefeweizen
  11. Lagunitas India Pale Ale
  12. Redhook Long Hammer IPA
  13. Kona Long Board Lager
  14. New Belgium Seasonal
  15. Magic Hat No. 9 Ale
  16. Deschutes Mirror Pond Pale Ale
  17. Deschutes Seasonal
  18. New Belgium Variety Pack
  19. Samuel Adams Light
  20. Stone India Pale Ale
  21. New Glarus Assorted
  22. Samuel Adams Cherry Wheat
  23. Deschutes Black Butte Porter
  24. Shiner Seasonal
  25. Deschutes Inversion IPA
  26. Redhook ESB
  27. Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA
  28. Anchor Steam Beer
  29. Bell’s Two Hearted Ale
  30. Samuel Adams Latitude 48 IPA

A few disclaimers before we get into what I found interesting. First, this is just grocery stores, so it doesn’t include standalone liquor stores or bars and restaurants. Second, the largest retailer in the world, Wal-mart, doesn’t share its sales figures, so these numbers might be a little skewed. But interesting nonetheless.

Like how the list has less to do with popularity than availability. The top brands are, unsurprisingly, nationally distributed, so it stands to reason that they’d be at the top in sales figures. But look at Bell’s Two Hearted—one of the two Midwest brands represented. I’d argue that their other flagship brew, Oberon, is more popular (more people would prefer Oberon over Two Hearted) but since Oberon is only available during the summer months, and Two Hearted is available year-round, Two Hearted is a bigger seller and therefore a more valuable brand to Bell’s. Something to think about …

And look at number 21: New Glarus. Remember that they only distribute in Wisconsin. Even if that entry represented every beer they make, it’s pretty mind blowing to see them on this list, ahead national beers like Deschutes, Redhook, and Dogfish Head. And it’s not like they’re the only game in town (or state, in this case): Wisconsin is somewhere in the top ten when it comes to breweries per capita. Not sure if that’s a testament to the popularity of New Glarus or the liver-swelling drinking habits of Wisconsinites, but it’s pretty fucking amazing if you ask me.

Does this mean we’re gradually shifting to an all-IPA world where malt lovers will be derided and ridiculed?
Finally, let’s get to what I think is the most fascinating fact about this list: look how many IPAs there are. I counted nine, and that’s assuming none of the “seasonal” entries are IPAs. I remember only maybe two or three years back, it seemed the list of most popular craft beers was dominated by ambers, wheats, and pale ales—”accessible” craft beers, if you will, to accomodate the tastes of people moving from shit beer to flavorful concoctions made at their local brewpub. But it seems as beer drinkers’ palates are maturing—in other words, getting used to those bigger flavors—more and more of them are gravitating toward the bitter stuff, personified quite nicely by a “hop bomb” like Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA, number six—six!—on the list.

Does this mean we’re gradually shifting to an all-IPA world where malt lovers will be derided and ridiculed, driven to live alone in underground bunkers like paranoid, apocalypse obsessed rednecks? Not at all. Although I think IPAs will be popular for years to come, new styles du jour will come and go, keeping things interesting for us lovers of good beer. We’re already seeing variations on the IPA, like Belgian-IPA fusions and the Cascadian dark ale, aka “Black IPA,” and you can count on craft brewers to keep innovating when it comes to new and exciting flavors. The next dominating style might be some esoteric Old World style resurrected (much like the IPA) from the depths of history, or some combination of malt, hops, yeast, and who knows what else that’ll knock our proverbial socks off. That’s one of the reaons craft beer is endlessly fascinating.

And if you’re a malt lover scared of the future, I have a solution, which, as it happens, is the answer to almost all of life’s challenges: home brew.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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