How (and Where) We Search for Beer – A Visual Guide

search bar header sphere

Note: You can read a follow-up post to this discussion here, where I look into the semantics of “microbrew” vs “craft beer.”

Hidden within this recent story about states that drink the most beer is a great nugget about how people are searching for beer online.

Since it’s a Yahoo production, they offer up the top-10 searched beers through their search engine:

  1. Pabst Blue Ribbon
  2. Fosters
  3. Budweiser
  4. Corona
  5. Heiniekn
  6. Bud Light
  7. Dos Equis
  8. Miller
  9. Sam Adams
  10. Yuengling

This got me to thinking, if these are well-established, easily-known brands, what is it people are looking for? Even more head-scratching – searches for “Pabst Blue Ribbon” were 10-times higher on Yahoo than any other beer brand.

That’s a lot of curious hipsters performing online searches. But what are they searching for? Here are the most common search queries when it comes to the blue ribbon-winning brew via Yahoo:

pabst search results yahoo

OK, so nothing fancy except something to do with a coffin. But what about WHERE people are searching for Pabst? And what about other beer? That’s much more interesting.

Curious where all those Pabst searches are coming from? Maybe a hipster Mecca like Brooklyn or Seattle or San Francisco? … or Wisconsin? Here’s a Google Trend map showing searches for “Pabst Blue Ribbon” over the past year, with darker shading showing more searches:

Pabst Blue Ribbon google trend map last 12 mth

Wisconsin is special because that’s where Pabst was originally established and people can still tour its old facilities in Milwaukee. Otherwise, this map looks how you might expect. Lots of searches up and down the coasts with a hipster locale like Colorado (Denver/Boulder) pulling up lots of queries. Missouri and Minnesota stand out, but no big surprises.

Here’s a funny tidbit, though. Searching for “craft beer” on Google was nearly non-existent in the U.S. from January 2004 through December 2008. A Google Trend map looked like this every year during that four-year period, with color showing more searches. There is no color here:

craft beer google trend map 04-now - blank search

Then all of a sudden people started showing great interest in craft beer, starting with the Northeast. Massachusetts jumped on the bandwagon first (January to June 2009 time frame), then New York, then Pennsylvania and it grows from there with an explosion in January to June 2011 through today. In the animated GIF below, the bluer the state, the greater the number of searches for “craft beer”:

test craft beer on Make A Gif

Very interesting. I found it funny that Colorado didn’t get big hits on searching “craft beer” until 2012 much like several Mid-Atlantic states, including North Carolina.

Searches overall didn’t really pick up until 2009, but that’s understandable when looking at the number of craft breweries in the US. That figure takes a nice upswing in 2009:


Now we know that along with our tastes, our interest (and very well education) started taking a leap forward around that time. It should come as no surprise that 2009 was a banner year for the Cicerone program, beer’s answer to the sommelier. The first 18 Certified Cicerones were announced by the Cicerone Certification Program in 2009.

That led me further down the rabbit hole, making me curious how searches for beer styles have changed. You know what? Stereotypes seem to play well with our beer brethren when they go searching.

West Coast

The IPA – arguably the flagship style of the craft beer movement – has seen monumental growth in interest in recent years. From the GIF below, you can see how searches for “IPA” started where you would expect on the West Coast, but has taken over the country. Google searches categorized below are for the first six months of each year and bluer means more searches:

test ipa on Make A Gif

East Coast

I need to play fair, however, because there’s certainly an East Coast bias with another beer style – lager. Whether it’s Sam Adams’ Boston Lager, Brooklyn (Brewery) Lager or Yuengling, it’s clear where the East – and Northeast especially – hang their hat. This GIF represents Google searches for “lager” made during the first six months of each year:

test 1 on Make A Gif

What does it mean?

I suppose it’s something that we already knew – people aren’t just drinking more craft beer, but they’re more interested in it than ever. Here’s one last graph for you, showing the trend of searching for “craft beer” on Google:

craft beer line graph growthThat line keeps going up and up and even in Google’s forecasting of how searches will continue, it climbs ever higher.

There you have it. While it may seem odd that people’s online search behavior may not match up perfectly with word of mouth – I feel like talking about craft beer was taking off earlier than 2009/2010 – here’s the most important takeaway I see from all this:

These graphs represent the average beer drinker who may not know a lot about craft beer and they go online to learn. That means Joe or Jane America isn’t just more interested in drinking craft beer, they want to educate themselves, too.

I’ll raise a glass to that.


+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac


29 thoughts on “How (and Where) We Search for Beer – A Visual Guide

    1. Thanks! Was a bit time consuming taking all those screen shots, but research for stuff like this can get really interesting. Glad you liked it.

  1. Very interesting stuff. I would have suspected searches would have taken off in a bigger way prior to 2009.

  2. Great input here. I wonder why people weren’t searching much for lager pre-2005. Or was the shading just relative to the later years?

    Either way, great post!

    1. Thanks for the kind words!

      Shading is consistent, meaning that there just wasn’t much search for “lager” in 2004, the earliest time frame that Google Trend data is available.

      1. Hmmm, I guess people hadn’t realized Google existed yet. They must have been or AskJeeves users

    2. I think’s probably because not a lot of people knew about the term “craft beer” yet. I wonder what would turn up if we look at how “microbrews” were looked up back then. At least, that was the term for good beer around Pennsylvania before craft really took off here.

      1. Spoiler alert: you’ll get your answer tomorrow!

  3. There are few things in the world that turn me on as much as elaborate colored coded maps that double as dynamic infographics.

    Wait…did I say that out loud?

    But really, great and fascinating work. I was sort of expecting a heat map of how we literally click the Google pages, but this is way better.

    1. I never would have thought my little blogging enterprise would have turned into erotic non-fiction.

      You’re welcome, loins.

  4. Great stuff. I was trying to remember what we called it before craft beer – all I could think of was microbrew – and that didn’t have many hits, either.

    1. Thanks for your kind words … and perhaps another aspect of search to look at!

    2. Thanks for the kind words.

      I’m planning a post for tomorrow that touches on this exactly.

  5. I think that while your method is fair, that it overlooks a few things. For instance, in Oregon I don’t think I’ve ever had to “google” IPA. I just walked into my local super market and have five plus choices. Or at least it has been that way going back to the early 90’s. So maybe in places like Oregon and Colorado with decades old Micro Brew traditions (which predates both the web and the current term of “Craft Brew”) we don’t do a search online for beer. We just go out and buy it, and have been doing just that since before the rest country caught on to what good beer was.

    1. Yes! A fantastic point and one I foolishly overlooked. The data available would have certainly left out the “earlier” days when craft beer and various styles were still “new” to many. Thanks for pointing this out!

      On the flip side, it’s still exciting to see such change from places on the coasts, including California, which has been around the craft beer block but still shows change and growth.

      Thanks so much for reading and adding to this!

  6. I wonder how the number of searches relates to the prevalence of smart phones. even 4-5 years ago, most people did not have the ability to search the web while standing on a corner during vacation like they do now. I suspect the ownership of smart phones correlates fairly well with interest in beer as shown on the map.

    1. That’s a great point. It’s something I do all the time.

      I wonder if smartphone searches would be more focused to a region/city/brewery. As you point out, the ability to search for something at any location drives search up, but is be curious how that would impact searches for broad topics (“craft beer”) compared to narrow ones (“craft beer near __”).

      1. I suspect many of the mobile searches are while someone is at a store searching for more info about a beer before they buy it… at least that’s the most common time for me to search a specific beer or brewery.

  7. Awesome post. Great research. I admit, I watch the maps do their thing several times. Oh! Shiny red….state….

    1. Ha! Thanks. I found myself doing the same thing, especially on my follow up post where you can see two maps at the same time going through the same years.


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