I have written in the past about the price of beer and craft beer in particular. I mentioned it here when I posed the question "how much can this market stand?". There wasn't much by way of conclusive response and one does wonder in these recessionary times whether there is still potential growth in the market.
Now comes some hard evidence, not from here, but from that other place, the USA, that craft beer might just be weathering hard times much better than you'd think. Sales for Budweiser, the flagship brand for AB InBev, plunged 7.3% in 2010, driven it seems by the fact that the unemployment rate among core blue-collar beer drinkers remains three times that of more affluent, white-collar consumers.
On the other hand, craft brewers have had a different experience. Sales at Boston Beer Co., the maker of Samuel Adams and the market share leader in this category, edged up 1.7% in 2010. Sierra Nevada Brewing increasing its sales by 7.8%, Magic Hat Brewing gained 14.8% and New Belgium Brewing soared by 18.3%. "Craft beer costs more, but the consumers are saying, 'We're getting something different here and we're willing to pay for it.'"
Other reasons given for this success include that US consumers show a preference for craft beer with stronger and more experimental flavours. IPA sales for example, are are up over 40% compared to a year ago. Local loyalty is another reason it seems, with consumers willing to pay extra to support independent brewers in their own communities.
Now here isn't the USA (despite the wishes of some) and "local" certainly isn't much of a factor here - that's reserved for largely for cask - with imported beers dominating the emerging craft sector. But it seems likely that the craft beer market in Britain has a good chance of emerging from the recession in growth, albeit not enough of it indigenous. (My own view is that the new London brewers can locally exploit this gap if they are smart and nimble enough.)
In this niche there is a lot to fight for and maybe this is why we see so much fuss being made about craft beer, though the answer seems to be in taste and innovation, not copying cask by producing keg versions of cask beers, though of course it could be argued that this itself is a niche within a niche.
So back to the question of "how much can this market stand?" "More", it seems, is the likely answer.
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink. He also judges beer at both the International Beer Challenge and the World Beer Awards.
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