You love the blog, so subscribe to the Beervana Podcast on iTunes or Soundcloud today!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Best-Selling American Craft Beers

Last week, I began what will be a short series of posts on a presentation Dan Wandel made for SymphonyIRI that looked at sales figures and trends for craft beer sold at supermarkets. In that post we looked at the best-selling styles; today we look at best-selling brands.

As with last week, I've reworked the data a bit to take out some of the best-selling SKUs tracked by SymphonyIRI: Sam Adams Seasonal (No. 3), Sam Adams Variety Pack (No. 5), Sierra Nevada Seasonal (No. 9) and New Belgium Seasonal (No. 12). (In the case of seasonals, several beers share the same SKU and are sold at different times of the year; variety packs, obviously, include more than one beer.) The remaining eleven account for 28.5% of all the beer tracked by SymphonyIRI--a sizable piece of the pie given that the company tracks 253 IPAs alone. In fact, the top four account for nearly 20% of all sales.

Here are the top ten, and the percentages indicate the total proportion of the entire craft segment that beer controls. The eleventh beer is Magic Hat's Number 9, at 1%.

When I looked at this list, my eye was attracted to Sierra Nevada's Torpedo--and then I realized something about this list. Only Torpedo is a recent brand. In fact, the next newest beer is Sam Adams Light, released a decade ago.
Sierra Nevada Pale (1980)
Sam Adams Boston Lager (1984)
New Belgium Fat Tire (1991)
Shiner Bock (1913)
Widmer Hefeweizen (1985)
Sierra Nevada Torpedo (2009, bottle)
Sam Adams Light (2001)
Redhook IPA (1995)
Kona Longboard Lager (1998)
Deschutes Mirror Pond (1992ish)

Clearly, it helps to have a jump on things. To see just how consistent these beers have been, have a look at Stan Hieronymus' report from four years back. And yet, despite this consistency, it's not like there's no movement. Not all these beers are headed in the same direction or at the same rate. (And no, I have no idea if these reflect year-to-year variation or are indicative of larger trends or volatility.)
Sierra Nevada Pale_______0.9%
Sam Adams Boston Lager___0.0%
New Belgium Fat Tire____-4.5%
Shiner Bock_____++++++__11.1%
Widmer Hefeweizen_______-9.5%
Sierra Nevada Torpedo___59.2%
Sam Adams Light________-15.1%
Redhook IPA______________4.5%
Kona Longboard Lager____45.5%
Deschutes Mirror Pond____3.5%
In some ways, it's easy to overthink these stats, though. Deschutes is the fifth largest craft brewery, but only cracks the list at number ten. What does this tell us? That Deschutes' production includes a pretty diverse line of beers that sell well. Is that good or bad? Probably neither, but interesting. By contrast, New Belgium has a huge tent pole beer in Fat Tire.

More to come.


  1. I'm not surprised to find Sierra Nevada Pale and New Belgium Fat Tire on the list. Those beers have been around for a while and are obviously widely distributed.

    The Sam Adams beers, well, I guess I'm not surprised to see them on there. These are lowest common denominator beers.

    What's up with those numbers for SN Torpedo and Kona Longboard? Those are crazy. Explanation?

    I suspect Torpedo is benefiting from the Sierra Nevada name and distribution network, as well as the fact that beer drinkers seem to be reaching for hoppier beers these days.

    Longboard Lager? This beer and the Kona brand have been around for quite a while. But Longboard has been widely available only since the Kona brand was folded into the Craft Brewers Alliance and Anheuser-Busch distribution. If you want to understand why Michelob and Bud sales are in free fall, Longboard Lager's rise is a good place to start.

    Deschutes, we know, is in good shape. I'm guessing they occupy quite a few places on a top 25 list. I look forward to seeing more numbers.

  2. Torpedo is only available in larger bottles, at a higher price point, isn't it? Could that have something to do with its placement? Not sure if the figures reflect volume of beer sold or revenue.

  3. Not sure where you live Leftfielder, but here in CA we can pick up Torpedo in 6 and 12 packs of 12 oz. bottles.

  4. Torpedo is available in 6 and 12 packs here in Portland. Probably also in bombers at select shops.

  5. This is a great series of posts, I'm looking forward to reading more.

  6. As you've previously noted, you have to take IRI's numbers with a grain of salt as they fail to include a healthy proportion of beer sales, including independent package/liquor stores and draft sales. So basically, for my home state of Massachusetts, IRI's #'s cover next to nothing.

  7. Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams really aren't 'craft beer', though. By the legal definition they are, but not by any honest, realistic definition. Of course the 'most popular' are going to be the most widely distributed.

  8. Pete, while you have lots of support in the observation about Sam Adams, I dissent. I think Boston Lager's a great beer. It's also worth keeping growth rates in perspective--growth 50% in Mirror Pond's case next year would be the equivalent to less than 10% growth for SN Pale.

    Andy, "next to nothing" oversells the point(IRI does track substantial sales in MA), but indeed, these are only a part of the picture. They're useful for understanding trends, particularly at the popular level.

    I would love to know what proportion of craft beer is sold as draft. The overall percentage of draft sales in the US is just 10%, but obviously, you've got a lot of people drinking canned beer. Craft beer may be much higher.

  9. I think you're right on that last point, Jeff, and it's something that craft beer has failed to capitalize on to its fullest extent, I think. Craft beer has a much higher potential for selling the pub/bar experience.

    I also have to say that these numbers always seem to reiterate that American is not an IPA-drinking country. Even in the craft segment, people seem to buy easy drinking light ales and/or lagers.

  10. I second PeteD.

    It's about distribution network. Much/most craft beer is intensely local.

    Boston Beer Co. and Craft Brewers Alliance beers benefit from national distribution. Gambrinus' Spoetzl's Shiner and New Belgium beers not far behind.

    Get outside acknowledged beertowns and search for craft beer. You may be grateful to find Sam Adams and Red Hook.

  11. We really have no idea what proportion of craft beer is sold as draft? It must be high.

    By the way, I'm not that down on Sam Adams. A couple of years ago they had an Imperial Pilsner. It came in 4-packs. Belmont Station had it off and on. Great stuff. I haven't seen it lately. Too bad.

  12. An aspect of craft beer non-availability is demand excessing supply; eg. An April 2011 post, reported

    'Avery Brewing Company plans to withdraw from eight states and seven other partial-state markets beginning in April. Faced with skyrocketing demand–first quarter 2011 production growth for their home state of Colorado is 81% and overall production growth is 75%–the brewery has been forced to make the tough decision or lose the ability to support all markets with a steady supply of fresh beer.

    Beginning in April 2011 beer shipments will be ceased to Ariz., Conn., Ind., Neb., NMex., Okla., RI and Tenn.
    ... ...

    The brewery is also leaving several partial state markets, including: ... ...'

    Earlier, I failed to mention Sierra Nevada which also benefits from national distribution.

  13. What it tells me? HOOK at $5.50 is a reasonable decent purchase.