Why Local Beer is (More and More) a Young Person’s Game


Because I have a hard time finishing a thought in just one post, I wanted to add something to my comments on AB InBev’s problem with Millennials.

While my original goal was to answer some of the “why” regarding young drinker’s lack of interest in Budweiser and Bud Light, it occurred to me that the other side should be examined – why are Millennials so damned interested in craft beer? Lots of reasons, surely.

Why are young, small craft breweries different than AB InBev? In a lot of ways, but when it comes to the main reason of my original piece – influence on Millennial-aged drinkers – I think today’s breweries are at an advantage because they HAVE to be open, honest and connected to succeed in a local marketplace. They rely on their community for financial support, but they also rely on them for word of mouth and emotional support.

drink_local_logoLocal is the name of the game now for food and drink. There’s a reason that Millennials – craft beers biggest fans – flock to brands their parents and grandparents aren’t as interested in.

When we say young people love craft beer, it’s easy to point toward key aspects of innovation and taste, both which are leaps and bounds (purposefully) above Budweiser or Bud Light.  But I’d argue that there’s more to it than that.

As I pointed out in my original post, Millennials are an interesting group, mostly because Big Beer advertising actually works on them and gets them to think something like Bud is cool enough to buy. But at the point of sale, it’s a no-go and they opt for something else.

Here’s the path we go down at this point:

Young consumers are increasingly turning from corporate or assumed “false” advertising. Those that fall within the 18 to 33 age range are more likely to support a cause campaign and participate in fundraising than their older counterparts. Why does this matter? Because this means we can assume Millennials more easily find connections among local businesses and people, especially if they want a shared experience. (Hint: they do)

Craft beer is becoming increasingly local. The idea of national saturation may not actually be an issue so much as finding a balance among our hometowns/counties/states. As more breweries continue to open around the country, they’ll be opening in smaller locations and not necessarily big cities. At a time when many Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery the idea of a neighborhood bar or brewery is once again the norm.

The “story” of a business or brand is important to young people. Think Big Beer doesn’t know this? Perhaps that’s why AB InBev puts increasing emphasis on Budweiser as “America’s Largest Local Brewer.” Millennials are active in supporting causes they believe in and if they turn away from what they deem to be corporate or misleading products, they’ll be more interested in what they perceive as honest and personal. Maybe something like that brewery down the street that doesn’t advertise, but has employees and brewers not afraid to strike up a conversation.

Millennial drinkers are looking for instant gratification. As shoppers, young consumers put a premium on ease, efficiency and convenience. If they have a local brewery that’s easily accessible, offers a quality product and makes them feel good as a consumer, that’s a recipe for success.

All this is part of a larger “local” movement among Millennial-aged consumers, which includes a focus on regional craft beers and authenticity when it comes to food and drink purchases. As a cohort that is apt to dine and drink together, this is all a whirlwind of pressures that can push Millennials to focus more on locally-sourced craft beer.

If Millennials are five times more likely to be influenced on beer purchases based on word of mouth than any other demographic, how do you think all this plays out?

It’s easy, it ends with a 21-to-33 year old sitting at their local bar or brewery with their friends. Not with a Bud in-hand.

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


27 thoughts on “Why Local Beer is (More and More) a Young Person’s Game

  1. Damn Millennial whipper-snappers. Although, maybe as a Gen X, I will just sit back and enjoy the (local) fruits of their market power. Hmph, Damn Millennial whipper-snappers.

    1. They’ll never know how good they’ve got it!

  2. I’ve just read your thread of theories on this topic and as a millennial craft beer yuppie, I do have a question posed to you that I myself haven’t quite figured out: why are the young, broke, and cool more interested in spending $5 or more on a craft beer when they could be buying a cheaper beer and getting more of it? While I think some of the above points are valid in an argument for why this occurs, ultimately their wallets are taking a bigger hit than their conscious on corporate responsibility ever will. While false advertising, local support, and the story all matter there is still something missing. This is in reference to the lower age group (think 21-26) whose main goal/instant gratification is getting drunk on a budget. I’m just curious on your thoughts on this if you have some insight!

    Everything else, completely spot on. Cheers!

    1. This really is a great question that has a lot if variables and if history proves itself, will probably end up being a blog post!

      I think there are a lot of things to consider, especially given that alcohol consumption during the worst years for Millennials – early part of the Great Recession – stayed steady. Granted, that’s for all demographics, but during that time we know two things: alcohol drinking didn’t drop and craft beer sale volumes went up. Given the economic hardships for many, this really seems odd, as you’re right – it is significantly cheaper to just buy some Natty Ice and have at it.

      Other aspects might be price comparison of all drinks, as recent trends have shown young drinker affinity for alcohol beyond craft beer, including mixed drinks, which would cost more to buy at a bar/restaurant. Location certainly comes into play, too, as metro areas have gained size with young people moving around as much for life experience as jobs, which are hard to come by.

      I could ramble on and on, but this is something I’m now really curious to jump into. I look forward to it!

      Again, a really great question and I appreciate you posing it.

  3. There is also a sense of ownership that comes a long with it. Bud is the beer of everyone. Union Craft Brewing? Well, that’s my beer.

    1. Yes! An excellent point and something that can probably be attributed to the idea of feeling passionate about a brand’s ethos.

      As a consumer of a new and/or local business, you get to be a part of their growth and story. It definitely gives a sense of ownership.

      My favorite local brewery, which is just a few years old, is my go-to spot to being visitors because not only do I love their beer, but I feel connected to them in the sense of community pride!

  4. A lot of the time you have to look at it as buying something from someone you know. When you know someone or know someone who knows someone that is the brewer it connects with you more. Being young means you’re more impressionable and that isn’t always a bad thing. InBev is trying to pass itself off as local but other brewers as in this link prove it: http://craftbeerandrunning.com/2013/11/25/run-with-your-brewer/

    1. Yes, your post shows a good aspect of the community culture – brewers and breweries want to be a part of it! When Bud tries to showcase how it’s “local” with their commercials, it’s easy to see through their efforts. It’s different with local breweries, who have a vested interest in the people and happenings around them.

  5. I reckon it’s also down to the cool factor. Craft beer is “cool” while beers like Bud aren’t. Those millennial whippersnappers are like everyone else when they’re young – they want to be cool.

    1. I do think this is a part of it. Millennials are apt to go out in groups and like anyone else, are susceptible to groupthink.

      Peer pressure! What could go wrong?

  6. As one of the aforementioned whipper-snappers, I have a theory that might partially explain the Millennials interest in craft beer brands. When I was in college, I spent more time than I should’ve trying to figure out what “my” beer was. My dad always had Bud or Bud Light in the house, but some of his friends were Coors guys or Miller Lite guys. For a while I was a Labatt Blue man and a Coors Original man, because that was “different.”

    Most Millennials are in college or the post-grad time of their lives; the peak point for personality experimentation. They’re trying to determine their image, and since alcohol consumption is a big part of the social scene at the same time as this experimental phase it makes sense (to me at least) that Millennials would “try on” several different beer brands. Having something local and cool says “I’m locally conscious and cool,” in theory.

    And coolness is an important currency of youth.

    1. Per my normal, nerdy self, I’m going to try my darnedest to answer this. There are lots of variables and moving parts, but you’re definitely hitting on a part of it.

      Stay tuned – I hope you’ll be back to chime in when I do!

      1. Be careful about inviting me to comment. Most people get sick of it after a while. 😉

  7. tempestinatankard December 7, 2013 — 10:45 am

    Bryan, as always, you raise some good points. But the historian in me is inclined to remind your readers that the whole process of generational change and (the proverbial Freudian/Oedipal notion of the sons rising up to vanquish the fathers) is far from new. The craft beer renaissance has affinities with the 1960s and early 70s counter-cultural dissatisfaction with all things corporate, including food and beverage. (Indeed, the local food movement has its roots in this broader counter-cultural movement). And then there’s the issue of how a previous generation came to embrace “fizzy yellow liquid” in the first place: a reaction to (you guessed it) rich, colourful, flavourful beers that were deemed, at the time, too heavy.

    What I’m getting it here is that taste is historically and culturally contingent, and the Millennials are no different. On this point, most of the sociologists and economists who study the linkages between advertising, taste, and consumption are less than helpful.

    Off to the kitchen to raise my coffee cup to a new day. Cheers.

    1. Yes – some excellent points to add! I suppose what draws my interest to this case is the cross section of a variety of trends like the incredible rise of craft beer (and matching up with increasing interest in “local”) and the popularity among youth in spite of the recession and the poor economic situation for many.

      As you mention, there are many reoccurring historical aspects to consider, but it’s fun to look at it within our current, modern timeline!

      Anything else you believe is worthy considering?

  8. Another Gen Xer here….

    Where am I? How did I get here? Young millennial whipper snappers.

    Check the popularity of craft beer with millennials of a lower socio economic strata….boom, your argument is destroyed.

    Young rich yuppies as some girl already labelled herself getting drunk off daddy’s dime.

    1. Ryan,

      You’re right, there are most certainly two sides to every story and for each age demographic, there are people who prefer (or simply must choose) cheaper, macro beer.

      However, the argument isn’t that all Millennials are going crazy for craft beer and spurning Big Beer in the process. It’s that given trends, craft beer is more important to people of this age group.

      From a brewery’s perspective, they’re the largest age group interested in craft beer and we also know that Millennials crave variety, which is what they get from craft, among all the other instances mentioned in the post.

      So if it’s the most important consumer demographic seeking new experiences and variety that is widely provided by craft beer, then it seems plausible that the popularity of craft beer would hold strong with Millennials. Maybe not all of them, but that was never the point.

      Spending habits for beer drinkers in general suggest that price point isn’t what they solely base their decisions on and in fact, word of mouth from friends and family are more important than ever, similar to the situation outlined here.

      But let’s not forget that for both Big Beer and craft beer businesses, any demographic that isn’t buying your product is who you want to court and cater to. So let’s not just summarily write things off quite yet.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

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