How (and Where) We Search for Beer – “Craft Beer” Goes Viral

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It’s time to bring it home in this week’s series, in which we tried to figure out just how the term “craft beer” became part of national interest. Here are previous posts on the topic for review:

A few weeks ago I found out through Google Trends that the term “craft beer” grew steadily in searches beginning in 2009, which led me to ask: why?

In part one of this week’s series, I determined the growth of breweries around 2009, both in number and sales volume, helped drive curiosity in the term “craft beer,” especially in the Northeast. In part two, insight from professionals in the business and a review of marketing materials indicated that it was breweries themselves who helped drive the term “craft beer” into public consciousness, not the media specifically.

I find that to be very important, especially based off what Anat Baron had to say, noting that brewers were saying “craft beer” when she began working on her documentary Beer Wars in 2005. Specifically, she noted, the media didn’t begin a “love affair” with craft beer until around 2011.

That means in 2009, when Google searches for “craft beer” began to sky rocket, something else was helping to drive interest and getting people online to look up their (naturally) new, favorite drink.

Beer Gets Social

In a previous conversation with Fullsteam Brewery owner and “Chief Executive Optimist” Sean Lilly Wilson, he said his business succeeded in community engagement because as Fullsteam grew as a brewery – from public planning in 2008 to opening in 2010 – it also grew along with their communication tools:

“Many businesses aren’t able to make the leap of using branding as a conversation, but we’ve been very lucky in the timing of our brewery to coincide with the rise of social media,” said Wilson, who runs the @Fullsteam Twitter account. “Early on, I saw people cared, they were interested and they liked giving us ideas online to help shape the vision of the brewery.”

It just so happens that as the idea of “craft beer” was booming in 2009, so was Twitter.

Take a look at this chart, highlighting adult use of social media networks between 2005 and 2013 from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project:


… and don’t forget about how this line correlates with the number of craft breweries in the United States, which we can infer has helped to drive curiosity in looking up “craft beer.”


I’m not implicitly saying that social media is entirely responsible for the massive growth and interest to search for “craft beer” around 2009, but I feel it’s most definitely the giant gorilla in the room. Social media helped disseminate ideas, thoughts and opinions at a time when mass media wasn’t carrying the load.

The rapid-growth, viral nature of platforms like Twitter or Facebook are ripe for sharing, learning and engagement. It’s clear that breweries – perhaps the leading source of interest in looking up “craft beer” – flocked to social media to educate and interact with customers.

But how did breweries integrate social media in 2009? Consider this:

… there were four breweries on Twitter in 2007, 82 at the end of 2008, and now there are over 720 at the end of 2009. As much success as Twitter has had, Facebook is a bigger deal though. And with over 350 million people on the service, breweries are taking advantage. Consider the New Belgium Brewing page on Facebook where you see that the brewery has approximately 60,000 fans.

If we know that breweries helped drive the vernacular of “craft beer,” it’s easy to see how using social media platforms can enhance the growth of interest in looking up “craft beer.” It just so happens that 2009 was a banner year for all of this, when social media became part of the business plan for many.

I believe that as people pulled up Google to search for “craft beer,” there was also a good chance they were seeing the phrase used in online social spaces, whether message boards, Twitter, Facebook or beyond. Tech savvy people on social media likely beget tech savvy people using Google, and vice versa.

In June 2009, about 11.5 million Twitter accounts existed, nearly three-quarters of which were created in the first five months of that year. This also happens to be the time frame that “craft beer” begins its ascension through Google searches based in the Northeast. Thanks to the Internet and social media channels, it’s easy to imagine how people sharing thoughts and ideas pertaining to craft beer might pique the interest of someone elsewhere in the country to search for “craft beer,” as we see below in the growth of the search term. Darker states mean more searches for “craft beer” on Google:

craft beer searches on Make A Gif

We know many breweries began using social media in 2009 and it may be safe to assume some Average Joes and Janes using social media also liked beer, or at least were obviously curious to find out more about what was going on around them.

In something of a perfect storm, the highest concentration of Twitter users in 2009 were in areas searching for the term “craft beer” often, which includes major Northeast cities like New York City and Boston. These are also areas that saw large increases in sales from craft breweries.

To understand the potential for the virality of “craft beer,” it’s important to put 2009 into context with what a monumental shift that year held for social media. These are all stats specific to 2009:

  • 11 percent of all time spent online was spent on social networking sites.
  • Time spent on Facebook increased 700 percent.
  • Overall, there was an 82 percent increase in time spent online on social networking sites.
  • Facebook mobile received 112 percent growth in 2009, with Twitter’s mobile presence going up by 337 percent.

So what does this say about our vernacular? Well, it’s seemed to follow an easy path to popularity.

Exposure to craft beer came from increased interest and sales. Saying “craft beer” was then widely used by those in the know – the breweries. Finally, after people became accustomed to seeing craft beer and saying “craft beer,” they wanted to learn more and turned to the Internet, which coincided with huge adoption of social media as an engagement and education tool.

What do you think? Do you have any insight from your craft beer experience that may lend more depth to this conversation?

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


16 thoughts on “How (and Where) We Search for Beer – “Craft Beer” Goes Viral

  1. Dude, more awesome research here! You need to turn all these into a ebook… or a thesis paper!

    1. Ha! Thanks a lot, Tom. I’ve ended up spending a lot of time pulling all five parts together and as I was finishing up last night it reminded me too much of trying to finish up my final term papers for college courses. This has been a lot more fun, though.

      I’d like to continue looking into this kind of stuff, so it’s just a matter of finding the right resources. Really appreciate your support!

  2. Can I exploit you as a cheap form of labor…erm…hire?…you to do some research for me?

    Great stuff. Would be fascinated to see if there is a general trend of all niche things picking up steam as social media exploded, or if it was specific to certain industries. Would also like to see if this brought the less traditionally represented companies/business up to the levels of the big guys, of if the big guys saw just as much of an increase.

    1. In the giant Venn diagram of popular culture, I’m sure there is plenty crossover between things that were once niche and are now much more mainstream, most notably because of social media. Everything flows very freely these days.

      In reference to breweries on social media specifically, I’ve found that it’s not so much increase or decrease, but simply different strategies. What I think is now unique is Big Beer’s craft brands soaking up interest, like Redd’s Apple Ale, for example.

  3. This was an really great read, Bryan. Well done. I’m definitely going to sit back down later and read the series through again.

    So, looking at the tread data that you’re referencing I see that in 2008 (which you didn’t include but there is a blip of activity in NY) “craft beer” spiked its largest percentage of total searches in the week of Jun 15-21. In 2009 the largest percentage was the week of Jun 14-20. In 2010 there is a spike the week of Jun 13-19 but by this time the number of searches over time are starting to level off. If I understand the graph, this means that in those weeks either the number of searches for “craft beer” rose in relationship to the total number of searches, or they remained constant and the total number of searches decreased significantly. I spent a couple of lunch times trying to put some cosmic significance to this. But I don’t think there is. Maybe its just one of those things.

    “I love humans. Always seeing patterns in things that aren’t there.” – The Eighth Doctor.

    1. Hmm. Did you get the week-by-week data from Google Trend? Please do post a link to it if you’ve got it handy because I’d love to see what you’re seeing! If I’m getting your gist, there’s a spike the same week(ish) of June for three straight years? Very interesting.

      From what I understand, the strength of search is based on total volume, so areas that are more prominently displayed are searching more.


    This is comparing the search for “craft beer” verse all categories in 2009. You can drill down into the categories until you get to beer. The spike is still there, but not as prominent as you’re taking away from the “total searches” side of the equation. Hope I’m reading this right!

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