Craft beer is a classic example of history repeating itself; what’s old is new once again.
What started for many people as a hobby enjoyed in individual garages and basements surged into the cultural mainstream as more people learned they loved to raise a glass with something other than the typical six-pack of beer.
Strong growth numbers for craft brewing
The craft brewing business boomed even during tough economic times. Over the last decade, the industry experienced unprecedented growth. In 2015, the craft beer sales market increased 15 percent to a total of $22.3 billion, according to the Brewers Association annual report. Total barrel production rose to 24.5 million in 2015 compared to only 10.1 million barrels back in 2010.
As of 2015, the number of United States’ craft breweries stood at 4,225 — compared to 1,754 locations just five years before.
Brewers tap into local demand for direction
Craft brewers and industry experts attribute the industry’s nationwide success to an interesting paradox in today’s culture: people’s modern tastes combined with a growing need to connect with the local community.
Los Angeles-based marketing research company IBISWorld released a report in August 2015 highlighting craft beer’s diversity as a critical element to its rising popularity.
“The craft beer production industry brews virtually all styles of beer and regularly experiments with different ingredients to create variant styles of beer,” the IBISWorld report states. “As a result, the industry’s range of products is diverse.”
Craft beer brewers work with a variety of flavor profiles, including chocolate, vanilla, citrus (lemon, grapefruit), coffee, chai and much more. Combining these flavors requires a special touch.
“Our extreme focus on the flavor profiles and quality of our beers is what keeps people coming back,” explained Mike Stuart, director of social strategy of the MadTree Brewing Company in Cincinnati, Ohio. “It’s become ingrained in our culture that beer should have flavor and a great variety of them. We may see lower quality breweries fade, but those with a focus on maintaining quality and exploring new flavors will continue to flourish.”
Rather than having eyes on the big prize of national distribution, many craft brewers understand the need to tap into their community’s preferences to continue their business’ growth.
According to a 2015 Nielsen Marketing research study, consumers’ desire for locally sourced beer is on the rise.
“Consumers' desire to search for and buy local is growing,” the report found. “Among all alcoholic beverage categories, local has grown in importance the most among beer drinkers. In fact, 22 percent of beer drinkers said they think the importance of being made locally has grown over the last couple of years, compared with 14 percent of wine drinkers and only 5 percent of spirit drinkers.”
Stuart said he’s noticed this market shift and emphasizes its importance to craft brewing.
“In addition to our mission to be one of the most respected breweries in the region, a component of that is to be a strong pillar of our community and support charitable partners,” he explained. “From the beginning we have supported charitable causes and groups while making the taproom a place for the community. It's not our taproom, our brewery - rather, the taproom and brewery belong to the community.”
One way in which MadTree Brewing Company stays connected to the community is through its philanthropic efforts. The company’s “Charity of the Month” initiative supports a different cause each month in their taproom through the “Toss a Buck” program.
“Patrons throw cash into grates above our bar throughout the month, then all cash collected, and proceeds from headband sales, are donated to that charity,” Stuart shared. “We partner with non-profits when we launch a new can or bottle with a portion of sales donated to that group. We also support a number of other special events throughout the year. The community sees us supporting them but really they are the ones that support us.”