Brewers Association staff economist Bart Watson recently took a look back at 2016 to predict the style trends of 2017. Conceding that any form of prognostication is “pretty darn hard,” Watson wrote late last week that the IPA, far from showing any signs of a slowdown, has only become even more important to craft beer. Furthermore, he suggested other “growth opportunities” exist for golden and blonde ales, pilsners, and “other pale lagers,” a catchall term employed by research firm IRI that groups “a bunch of different lager styles” together.
WHY IT MATTERS
So, how does IPA keep dominating? the answer might be deceptively simple: A lot of it comes down to diversity. Watson writes that “IPAs are white, black, and red. They’re American… English, Belgian, and German. They’re hazy, clear, and everything in between. They come with fruit now. They range from 4% (or less) to 12% (or more).”
Diversity alone doesn’t really put into perspective just how dominant the style is, though. Perhaps this might: “If IPA were a single brand,” Watson says, “it would be the eighth largest by dollar sales in IRI Group scan data [year to date].” Indeed, the style is both a bully and a sure thing and seems positioned to require annual crown fittings for a good long while.
To find possible trends in the non-IPA category, Watson conducted some controlled experiments. He assigned a style to every BA-defined craft brand tracked by IRI. He examined their growth having eliminated the top three or top five brands to account for styles that are heavily driven by a few stalwart products. He studied how new entrants performed in a given style. And, finally, he inspected the “distribution of growth by brand across various styles.”
As far as golden and blonde ales go, Watson says the style grew in 2016, whether you accounted for every brand, or stripped the category of its top three or top five flag bearers. Pilsners, meanwhile, slowed as a whole, but, minus the top-five sellers, grew 30% in scans (though IRI only tracks a small pool of BA-defined craft pilsners, Watson notes). As for other pale lagers, Watson writes, “this style bucket has the strongest median growth for existing brands at 3.6%, with both top brands and brands further down the tail showing strong growth.”