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Friday, September 09, 2011

America's Best-Selling Craft Beer Styles

A couple of weeks back, Dan Wandel made a presentation about the craft beer sales tracked by his company, SymphonyIRI. They track scan data from supermarkets, big box retailers, and convenience stores across the country. The company doesn't track sales of every store--specialty retailers like Whole Foods and New Seasons, nor mom and pop stores. Nor does it track sales of draft beer, which constitutes a far larger proportion of the craft market than macro (mainly because of brewpubs). What SymphonyIRI does track are sales of packaged beer in the biggest part of the market, and so these numbers are useful in seeing where the larger trends are, separate from all the beer geek noise people like me tend to focus on.

I got to sit in on the presentation (a high-tech phone and Powerpoint presentation via conference call) and found it absolutely fascinating. There's a huge amount of the info that is too fine-grained to interest most folks, but a few data points really jumped off the page. I'll share these with you over the next few days (I just got a copy of the Powerpoint slides).

The first thing I want to look at is style preferences. Depending on how you slice them up, there are probably 30-40 different major styles of beer brewed commercially in the US. But the top three styles account for all craft sales, and the top five for two-thirds. America has a huge amount of variety in the market, but in terms of overall sales, we're really a five-style country.

I'm going to present the numbers a little differently than Dave did, so for those of you who've seen these figures, don't be alarmed. The first and fourth best-selling "styles" are actually seasonals (all the breweries seasonals throughout the year collapsed into one category) and variety 12-packs. Since they're not actually styles, I've pulled them out of the list and recalculated the percentages of the remaining eight styles. Here they are:

There are a couple of interesting addendums to the list. Beer geeks would probably expect to see IPAs leading the way, but this is actually the first time in SymphonyIRI's tracking that IPAs have edged out pales--a leader for years (maybe decades). This is significant because it is so far behind when this phenomenon reached the beer geek world. IPAs have been the most popular style for maybe a decade among the avid fans. This tells me that big trends within the avid base are worth watching as potential future features of national beer culture. As a related note, Wandel added this: in 2010, 177 IPAs were available in supermarkets. Now there are 253, a spike of 43% in one year. Wow.

More to come--


  1. what the hell is an amber lager and why does it rate so high?

  2. I'm hoping that amber lager is Shiner Bock!

  3. Amber lager could be Yuengling depending on if that is counted in this study. I imagine that would be a significant part of the sales.

  4. Amber lager could also be Michelob Amber Bock, as it's an A-B beer and it's pretty common at most grocery stores. It could also be quite a few Oktoberfest beers (assuming those don't fall into seasonal). And let's not leave out some of the amber Mexican lagers (Dos Equis, Negra Modelo, etc)...

    Pretty large style grouping, actually.

  5. How long, do you think, before stouts and/or porters crack that list?

  6. As someone in the beer industry, and with access to SIG data, Amber Lager is almost completely comprised of Boston Lager.