In many bars, gastropubs, taprooms, taverns, restaurants — anywhere a beer license reigns — the draft list has grown to the same size as the wine list. Consumers clearly love a diverse selection, especially with many independent and craft operations represented.
But it’s not the competition that has larger brewing companies worried — they still have their massive stake in the market and are always acquiring smaller operations — but how craft beers are intrinsically changing how beer is chosen. It is this “wineification” — or larger emphasis on style than brand — that may be a big coup for restaurants and bars in the future.
Keep your draft list, because craft isn’t going anywhere
Many mega-beer brands have tried their hand at poking fun at hipster IPA snobs; Budweiser received tremendous flac after their SuperBowl ad in 2015 that declared they were a proud “Macro Brewery” and depicted smaller operations as weak and pretentious.
Despite these commercial assaults from juggernauts, the craft beer market has not only survived, but thrived. In the Brewer’s Association’s (BA) annual report, they reported that craft breweries had increased 16.6 percent between 2015 and 2016 and independent and small breweries account for 99 percent of operations in the United States. Even acquisitions from larger companies have not stopped this trend.
More importantly for restaurateurs and bartenders, these statistics coincide with customers’ greater emphasis on making sure craft beers, are in fact, craft. The BA created an Independent Craft Brewer Seal to sooth consumers’ worries that they are buying beer from one of the big wigs. Some sneaky examples include Blue Moon, often advertised as micro but distributed by Coors, and Chicago’s Lagunitas, who sold 50 percent of their stake to Heineken.
Bigger companies want an invite, but only so they can crash the party
Despite advertising attempts to discredit craft as pretentious, it seems bigger operations want nothing more than a piece of what they have going on. Anheuser-Busch InBev has acquired 10 smaller breweries since 2011 and craft breweries have noticed. A new campaign from the BA declares that they can’t buy there way into the fun, and have a tongue-in-cheek crowdsourcing campaign to raise the $213 billion necessary to buy Anheuser itself.
These acquisitions not only stymie competition and expand distribution, but combat “wineification” and keep the big brands intact. In response to the BA’s campaign, president of MillerCoors’ craft and imports division, Pete Marino, spoke to AdAge about his company’s fears:
“You’ve got to start thinking about building and driving a brand. We are still fearful that the beer category will become like the wine aisle … It can be semi-tiring standing in front of a craft beer section now. It’s the paradox of choice: There are so many options, what am I going to choose?”
What does this mean for your bar or restaurant?
While I would argue Marino needs to build up his beer-choosing stamina, there’s a simple solution to this “paradox of choice:” going to an establishment where the draft list is curated and there are personnel who can help you find the best option.
Customers want choice. They have shown that by piling millions of dollars into the craft beer industry. Restaurants and bars shouldn’t be discouraged by the acquisition of smaller operations, but feel excited to find the next best pale ale at the tap room around the corner.
By developing and updating a draft beer list that has independent breweries well represented — restaurants and bars will keep customers piling in, happy, and supporting an industry with 129,000 stateside jobs.