How (and Where) We Search for Beer – An Issue of Wording

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Thanks to a strong response to my previous post on a visual guide to how Americans have searched for beer, I’ve decided to perform a sort of follow-up to investigate another aspect of the search process – vernacular.

In my original post, I looked at Google search trends for phrases like “IPA,” “lager,” and “craft beer.” The most surprising result was that as a country, we didn’t really start looking up “craft beer” until around 2009, which also coincided with a deluge of new craft breweries and the Cicerone, the official beer training program, as it were.

Specifically, Friend of the Program, Bill, from Pittsburgh Beer Snob, asked:

I think [it’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.

Good question. So what exactly is the difference with how people were seeking beer information in those early days of this craft movement?

I decided to pit search terms “microbrew” and “craft beer” against each other in a non-scientific way. To start, here’s a Google Trends line chart, showing the search interest of the two terms. “Microbrew” is the blue line, “craft beer” the reddish one:

microbrew vs craft beer search line WITH LABELS'Bill may have a point. Going back to 2004, more people were most certainly searching for “microbrew” over “craft beer” to learn more about our sudsy friend. Although “microbrew” wasn’t searched for anywhere near the volume that “craft beer” has in recent years. As expected, 2009 was a catalyst year for “craft beer,” something I touch on in my previous post on search trends.

After seeing this graph, I wanted to see for myself how easily thrown around either term was during the 2004 to 2008 time period.

Google search results for “microbrew” in those four years returned a wide variety of webpages, from a post on to a random blog and an explanation of what microbrew is on

“Microbrew” might have received more searches in the early days of my line graph, but there’s nothing that truly stands out from the rudimentary search to show that it was the prevailing way to describe non-macro beer.

That’s only enhanced with Google search results for “craft beer” from 2004 to 2008, which include references to “craft beer” by the New York Times,, Lew Bryson and many others like Craft Beer Radio, which began in 2005 in Pennsylvania.

Here’s an interesting result, however. A February 2007 hit gave me this Yahoo group, “CraftBeerinMI,” that uses both terms. In their group description, here’s how they describe themselves:

Do you like Michigan microbrews? This group is for craft beer/microbrew enthusiasts in Michigan to get together and discuss, well… good beer!

The use of both “microbrew” and “craft beer”should be noted as interchangeable, although their logo prominently displays the phrase “craft beer.” Take that for what you’d like. What I infer from this is that “microbrew” may have been more common to refer to an individual beer while “craft beer” was used more to describe the movement or broad recognition of this non-macro brew. (just speculation)

Moving forward to the 2008 to 2013 time frame, here are animated GIFs showcasing Google Trends on searching for the two phrases. These maps reference the first six months of each new year, with darker-shaded states meaning more searches.

First, here’s “microbrew”…

microbrew searches on Make A Gif

… and “craft beer,” which you may recognize from the previous post:

craft beer searches on Make A Gif

What interests me about comparing these two maps is the popularity of looking up “microbrew” in California. There’s a three-year decline in that search from 2008 to 2011, at which point “craft beer” appears to take over.

A two-year Google search for “microbrew california” between 2008 and 2009 doesn’t offer any strong reason to suggest that California would lead the pack in using the word “microbrew,” although I’d guess it would lie in the Golden State’s early adoption of non-macro beer with successes of breweries like Sierra Nevada and Anchor Brewing. (just speculation)

What does it mean?

My biggest takeaway from this only reaffirms a point from my original post – 2009 was a big deal for craft beer, not only in business, but in the way people perceived the product. The term “craft beer” hit its stride in 2009, which also coincides with a declining search for “microbrew.”

Granted, searching for “microbrew” hasn’t disappeared, but it may be on life support as “craft beer” is now the go-to way to describe the beer we love so much. (Just see the “craft vs. crafty” debate on how much semantics matter)

What do you think? Is “microbrew” still something you see/hear at all?



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


9 thoughts on “How (and Where) We Search for Beer – An Issue of Wording

  1. That’s really interesting to know. It’s almost as if the terms were used pretty much the same about a decade ago. Maybe “microbrew” was used and searched a bit more as you’ve found, but it’s almost as if when this stuff really took off that we replaced it with “craft” or even referred to it as its own movement. Amazing.

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