Craft Beer: Adapting to Survive?

The craft concept now ubiquitous across consumer goods began in beer. Craft has established a firm footing in many beer markets, but as the industry evolves so must microbrewers.

Calling time on tradition?

In 2019 the U.S. Brewers Association announced it was dropping one of the three elements of its craft brewer definition. There is no longer a need to be considered traditional. The new requirements state that a company must be small and independent (as before) and – unsurprisingly – a brewer.

This change means that brewers who produce the majority of their volumes in non-beer categories can still be classified as craft. In the U.S. particularly, brewers are branching out into other products such as alcoholic sparkling water, mead and kombucha. Slowing U.S. craft beer growth is a driving factor behind diversification efforts.

While this definitional shift could be seen as simply reflecting a changing beer landscape, the timing is notable. Boston Beer Company, the second-largest U.S. craft brewer by volume according to the Brewers Association, has been witnessing a decline in its beer volumes but continues to grow outside beer.

As the original and leading market for craft beer, the U.S. tends to set the standard for other countries. However, it remains important to include some element of tradition when considering the trend across much of the world at this stage.

Top 10 Craft Beer Markets by Volume Share 2018

Source: Euromonitor International

Note: In these figures, craft is defined as meaning independent (not more than 25% owned by a non-craft brewer), small and traditional (the exact meaning of which will vary somewhat by market).

The need to innovate… in moderation

Craft beer is known for providing consumers with a wide range of choice in terms of beer types and flavours. One notable development is the resurgence of traditional styles, such as sour beers, which fits with the importance placed on provenance in craft. In the U.K., the cask format is beginning to attract the attention of microbrewers.

Cross-pollination between alcoholic drinks categories is a significant trend in the wider industry and one that is also influencing the direction of craft. Brewers are experimenting with the use of champagne yeast, juice from wine grapes and gin-inspired juniper flavourings.

In mature beer markets, the range of flavours on offer is considerable. While variety is valuable in broadening appeal, there are dangers in excessive flavour innovation. As well as the possibility of bizarre taste combinations proving off-putting to consumers, strong flavours can be used in an effort to simply cover up poor quality brews.

The issues and trends shaping the wider beer industry are also affecting the development of craft. Microbrewers are looking to tap into rising consumer moderation through non-alcoholic beer and are taking steps to enhance their sustainability. Such adaptation will continue to prove crucial going forward as fashions change and regulations evolve – those regarding cannabis, for example.

To learn more, read the report: What’s Brewing in Craft Beer?