Exploring Drinker Demographics: Investigating Today’s Craft Consumer

magnifying-glass-personSelf-expression is unavoidable. No matter how small the detail, each conscious choice we make – for better or worse – lays out clues for others to understand who we are.

The thing is, these days, you don’t need to be a super sleuth to pick up pieces of a person’s personality. As much as we may try to toss out red herrings and throw others off, the investigation into someone’s personality is easier than ever, from their clothes to their technological accessories to their beer.

But especially the beer.

“Craft beer allows for people to express their individual sense of style while also allowing for experimentation, and that’s a very exciting thing for a lot of people,” Mintel food & drink analyst Beth Bloom told just-drinks.com this summer. “Craft beer is not only a beverage choice, it appears to be a lifestyle choice.”

While that sentiment might not be shared by every single beer drinker, it is widely accepted by Millennials, the largest demographic of craft beer consumers. Plus, at this stage of the craft beer game, we probably all know a person or two who are comfortable making snap judgements on others based on what’s in their pint glass, right, David Chang?

There have been plenty of takes highlighting latest demographics of the craft beer drinker, but looking beyond a few data points, what does this information tell us about the people flocking to craft?

Most important: The more we talk about beer as a culture and craft beer as a “lifestyle choice,” the more we need to consider why people make this decision, beyond the simple reason “craft beer tastes better.”

Spending habits

Perhaps the most pertinent data point when it relates to the craft-drinking set is their willingness to spend. If you look past taste, this is arguably the most defining aspect of the craft vs. macro decision.

While young college students prefer an easy and cheap way to find a buzz, we still need to consider their transitional period into craft consumers, not to mention the daily choices made by millions of others, which seems to increasingly point toward fewer cares about price.

According to Bart Watson, chief economist with the Brewers Association, the bottom 60 percent of households by income consume 40 percent of craft beer. I don’t know about you, but that screams lifestyle choice to me, especially when you recall that studies have shown the majority of younger consumers believe the brand and even style of beer reflects who they are:

“The continuing and growing popularity of craft beers is an example of this phenomenon, where consumers are willing to pay more for a so-called uniqueness,” [economist and investment banker] Burke said. “With a higher price point, craft beer is an indulgence many see worth the cost, because it’s an affordable luxury.”

Why local matters

I promise you, it’s not just because 75 percent drinking-age adults live within 10 miles of a brewery.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention this recent post decrying the future of local beer production and what that means:

Now, the desire to drink local brews has reached a fever pitch, often blinding publicans and craft beer drinkers alike from what should ultimately guide our choices: Is the beer of the highest quality? Is it bereft of off-flavors? Is it delicious? In short, is it superlative and memorable?

There is much I agree with in the piece, but I also think it misses a key point. While the issues of quality and expectations are something to take seriously, this may only be half of what today’s drinkers are seeking out. For as much as they want quality, they also want variety – even if that means taking the good with the bad so long as they can try something unique and still find a new IPA to drink.

And variety comes in waves when you have local options.

Highlighting the need for variety is nothing new, whether you’re talking about changing palates, “portfolio” drinkers or large companies trying to innovate. Seeking out new experiences with beer is now common place and when you go local, that becomes easier.

People are flocking directly to tap rooms for a reason. Yes, part of it most certainly has to do with the desire to “drink local,” but it’s important to also consider all the “whys” associated with that. Time and time again, it seems a focus is placed on new experiences with beer that our local breweries offer us.

To put it plainly: Local beer makes life better.

 The defining demographic?

But above all else, here’s the most important demographic aspect of craft beer drinkers that can be found across ages, races and personal backgrounds: empathy.

Or, as Mystery Brewing’s founder, CEO and head brewer Erik Lars Myers puts it, “we care what you drink.

This is not to say that drinkers of any other kind of beer, wine or spirit are not empathetic. Rather, that adjective can be found in context of many other craft beer demographic points you may have come across:

Or perhaps Erik put it best:

We care about what you like. We want to make great beer and we want you to like it and enjoy it because it’s delicious and that makes everyone happy. That’s what makes us craft.

So when we talk about definitions – whether about the beer we drink or the people who drink it – know there is more.

There is always a story behind a beer you drink or a brewery you visit. There’s always another layer to explore, just like our personalities.

More in this series:

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


6 thoughts on “Exploring Drinker Demographics: Investigating Today’s Craft Consumer

  1. Drinking Craft is also becoming part of the ‘new’ American identity. With the wave of Millennials flooding the market our American identity is shifting and part of that shift is coming with craft beer. We are detaching ourselves from Generation X and the Baby boomers and redefining what being an American is.

    1. Yes! A great point.

      I actually wanted to include a paragraph (or two) about this exact thing, but couldn’t easily find a spot and I already doled on for too long. However(!) here’s some food for through from an article I wanted to plug:

      “There is a strong correlation to the concept of not drinking my father’s beer,” said Mike Mazzoni, a former beer industry executive who is a senior partner at Seema International, a business-strategy consultancy. “Millennials aren’t drinking the Gen Xers beers,” said Mr. Mazzoni, a proponent of the so-called “product life cycle theory,” which holds that big brands will eventually mature and begin to falter. “And Gen Xers aren’t drinking the same that that they did 20 to 25 years ago. So what we have is an inexorable decline of the major brands.”

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