Good Beer Hunting

Time On Their Side — With Months to Go in 2018, Brands Eye Record Years


As half of Rhinegeist Brewery’s sales, Truth IPA has been a pivotal part of the brewery’s effort to grow ten times over in its fifth full year of operation. Expected to end the year around 100,000 barrels, the company’s flagship brand has shown no signs of slowing a push for incredible growth.

After showing year-to-year growth in 2016 (87%) and 2017 (47%) in IRI-tracked grocery, convenience and other stores, Truth already amassed two-thirds of its entire 2017 IRI sales volume in the first half of 2018. It’s on pace to easily maintain—and likely pass—its already impressive growth curve.

“If this IPA didn’t pan out or was just run of the mill, our trajectory would have been way different and we know that,” says co-founder Bryant Goulding. “Doubling down on the name and early success of that was a really great move.”

Looking at IRI off-premise sales, Truth is just one of a collection of brands from regional breweries that are boosting fortunes at a time when many businesses of similar and larger sizes are seeing flat growth. In the case of Truth, the addition of a 12-pack SKU has provided a nice addition, says director of sales Matt Steinke, because it’s opened up new convenience and grocery accounts in Ohio where 54% of the IPA’s sales take place. In less than a year of availability, those 12-packs now account for a just under 30% of packaged volume sales.


After going year-round to start 2018, Founders Breakfast Stout had already outsold its 2017 total by almost 4,000 case equivalents through June, a difference of about $230,000. According to the brewery, growth has seen a marked increase in the Southeast, which a spokesperson says tracks with growing sales of stouts and porters in the region, too. Nationwide, those styles, which are combined into one category by IRI, saw year-to-year increases of about 6% and 4% in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Larger Southeast markets like Florida (about +6% in stout/porter both years) and North Carolina (about +10% both years) were both trending at or above that level.

Another brand getting a boost from the Tar Heel State is Cigar City, which has received a significant boost since its 2017 purchase by Fireman Capital, joining its “CANarchy Craft Brewery Collective” and shifting some production just outside of Asheville to Oskar Blues’ facility, which is also owned by the private equity firm. Flagship Jai Alai, which accounts for almost three-quarters of production in 2018, had already amassed 80% of what it sold in 2017 through six months of 2018.

As Cigar City has increased its distribution reach, the IRI-tracked volume in Florida has decreased from 90% of sales in 2016 to about 66% so far in 2018. North Carolina now accounts for a little over 7% of IRI sales and Michigan, newly launched this year, has snapped up 2% of grocery and convenience sales.

A particularly interesting situation comes from Troegs’ Nugget Nectar, a seasonal release that sold roughly the same amount between January and March this year as it did last, but still came out as the No. 6 seasonal brand in the Northeast via IRI dollar sales, behind two Samuel Adams SKUs and brands from Leinenkugels, Sierra Nevada and Blue Moon. The stat is impressive because Nugget Nectar had a 18.5% category weighted distribution, which measures the number of retail placements weighted by volume sold. The beer was 30% behind the nearest top-five brand and also only measured 54% in its home state of Pennsylvania.

Troegs’ co-founder Chris Trogner tells GBH that the company sees Nugget Nectar as a “bright spot in the dead of winter,” which helps maintain steady interest each year. “It was the right beer with the right name and the right vibe at the right time, and somehow it became a cult classic,” he says.

On its way to position itself as “America’s Stout,” New Holland’s Dragon’s Milk is benefiting greatly from the brewery’s national distribution partnership with Pabst. Despite retailing for a suggested price of about $16, four-packs of the barrel-aged Imperial Stout are pacing the Michigan company and will amount to about 18,000 barrels of production in 2018. The brand alone is roughly the same as all the beer made by breweries like North Carolina’s Catawba, Wisconsin’s Central Waters and Portland, Oregon’s BridgePort in 2017.

Joel Peterson, vice president for marketing with New Holland, says Dragon’s Milk is now the leader in Nielsen’s Imperial Stout category and the No. 3 revenue-driving Stout in the U.S., behind Guinness and Guinness Foreign Extra Stout. It sold about three-quarters of its 2017 total through half of this year, with consistent growth at home in Michigan as much as the West Coast and Pacific Northwest. Not bad for a beer that’s been around for almost two decades.

“It’s really been a singular focus for us, asking how do we build this brand as much as possible and making it a national player?” Peterson says.

While not all national, the idea behind that question is part of the success seen among brands from Anheuser-Busch InBev’s High End portfolio, which is easily on pace to break IRI’s tracking of an almost $361 million year in 2017. Expansion across home states and the country is giving several brands something of a windfall with lots of runway left this year.

Elysian Space Dust IPA sold more volume in IRI stores than Dogfish Head’s entire portfolio in the first six months of 2018, while consumers bought enough Golden Road Wolf Pup Session IPA to double the amount of all of Allagash’s brands in those same stores. Elysian's Dayglow IPA, Breckenridge Vanilla Porter and 10 Barrel's Raspberry Crush Sour Ale and Joe IPA were all pacing ahead of their 2017 totals, too. In the last three months, Georgia has become Raspberry Crush’s fifth-highest volume state behind California, Oregon, Colorado and Washington.


Of particular interest to craft beer fans, however, may be what they assumed to be a sour-focused crown jewel for AB InBev with Wicked Weed. Naturally, the smaller-batch, barrel-aged brands mathematically can’t have as large of a footprint as core products, which is why a slow, but impressive, growth pattern has emerged for a trio of lead brands: Lieutenant Dank IPA, Napoleon Complex Hoppy Pale Ale,  Lunatic Blonde Belgian-Style Ale. Only Napoleon Complex hadn’t outsold its entire 2017 figure by the end of June, but then surpassed last year’s 7,246 case equivalents about a week later.


From BA-defined craft to conglomerate-owned brands, these are all examples of where shoppers are looking these days, and while not intentional, the skew toward IPA should come as no surprise. In year-to-year growth for 2016 and 2017, the style saw a 24% and 15% jump in IRI-tracked volume sales. But still, it’s not a clear picture, thanks to the variety of brands sold on tap at restaurants and New England IPAs served fresh at breweries.

“There’s a lot of growth still happening out there and IRI does lag some in terms of underrepresenting hotter, smaller, brands,” says Rhinegeist’s Goulding. “It’s dizzying.”

—Bryan Roth