Craft Beer is Big Business (If You Ignore Mass Market Brewers)

4673_elearning-trendsI am a huge craft beer supporter. Spending time with me means usually sharing a pint and invariably I’m eager to spread the gospel of craft beer. I’m quick to throw out the craft beer is having a modern Renaissance and its popularity is exploding with new breweries, brewpubs, and craft beer bars multiplying like nymphomaniac rabbits.

But the cold hard truth is that when it comes to beer sales even the craft beer giants pale in comparison to the big mass market behemoths in terms of barrels of beer produced and beers sold. Major craft beer brands like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada are huge compared to other major craft brewery brands like Dogfish Head or Stone. Yet even the largest of craft beer is completely eclipsed by the domestic giants.

Not that we want to emulate the BuzzFeed listicle business model but this chart of domestic beer sales by case was pretty telling of the uphill battle that craft beer is battling. These are the sales of beer brand cases in American in 2013. Notice the huge difference.

Cases of Beer Sold by Brand, 2013
Beer BrandNumber of Cases Sold
Bud Light294,749,300
Coors Light118,469,600
Miller Light94,262,870
Natural Light72,203,900
Busch Light56,008,580
Corona Extra41,170,180
Keystone Light33,586,780
Michelob Ultra Light31,626,370
Miller High Life30,260,060
Modela Especial21,648,650
Bud Light Lime13,146,440
Mike’s Hard11,855,950
Sam Adams10,453,300
Dos Equis7,910,841
Corona Light7,510,628
Smirnoff Ice6,072,160
Sierra Nevada5,799,218
These numbers should be surprising but to me they were shocking and appalling. The second biggest craft beer brand in America, Sierra Nevada, is being absolutely crushed by even Keystone Light; the brand that brought us the bitter beer face commercials. It isn’t even a small difference but a difference that is nearly six times larger. Bud Light is 28 times larger than Sam Adams. The Boston Beer Company is so large they needed to change the definition of craft beer to accommodate their size and their brand is getting killed by Bud Light and Budweiser.

This isn’t a chicken little style warning that the sky is falling. Craft beer has been exploding in sales numbers and the popular brands like Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams have seen consistent aggressive growth while these mass market brands have been on a steady decline. This is more a call of humility that while we should celebrate the success of craft beer in America we need to realize that our victories are small and any path to changing the hearts and minds of the American beer drinking is a long, arduous journey.

So make sure to spread the craft beer gospel to those who have not embraced quality over quantity. Introduce a skeptic to a great craft beer and convert someone from light, flavorless, bodiless, frigid beer to the wonders that is flavor. They’ll be a better drinker for it.

And keep in mind while you may be steadfast in your sense of superiority that in a world where 90% of people think good beer tastes like Bud Light you seem like a raving lunatic suggesting that your favorite bourbon-barrel aged, white, rye, barley-wine is what a real beer should taste like. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to turn them on a really good lighter lager.