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The future is hazy.

Mike Pomranz
May 31, 2018

Though growth in the craft beer market has slowed from the dizzying heights of the past decade, needless to say, people are still drinking beer. More importantly, as we’ve discussed previously, overall growth doesn’t necessarily tell the whole craft beer story: For instance, though larger craft brewers have been struggling, smaller microbreweries have actually continued to do exceptionally well. The same can be said for craft beer styles: Even as overall growth slows, microtrends can still be gleaned about individual styles, painting a better picture of what beers more people are drinking and which ones are losing favor.

Bart Watson, the chief economist for the craft beer trade group the Brewers Association, recently did exactly that, recapping which styles have been driving growth in the craft beer industry so far in 2018. His findings are extremely interesting because they reveal a mixed bag of styles both new and old.

Amazingly, approximately two decades after the India Pale Ale first started to take craft beer world by storm, “American IPA is still the top driver of growth,” Watson writes. If you don’t find that incredible, keep this in mind: Watson isn’t just saying that American IPAs are the most popular style; they’re the beers creating the most growth in craft beer, so sales of American IPAs are continuing to increase as well.

Watson even teased these sales apart from similar categories and found the same results: “Even if we take out all of the hazy/juicy brands from American IPA, it would still be the top style growth category YTD,” he writes. “And that’s without counting the growth coming from large brewer acquired IPAs.” Yes, even without including the extremely hot New England-style IPAs or large IPA brands like Goose Island and Ballast Point that are no longer craft, sales of American IPAs are still growing at a rapid clip. It’s truly incredible.

Speaking of New England-style IPAs—which the Brewers Association has officially dubbed “Juicy or Hazy Pale Ales and IPAs”—Watson says this style has also seen quite the boom to kick of 2018. “For a style that only recently showed up in distribution, the numbers are pretty impressive,” he explains. “YTD (through 5/20/18) that brand set represents 1.2% of BA craft by volume in IRI scan, and 1.4% of dollars sales. From 4/2 to 5/20, those numbers rise to 1.5% and 1.8% respectively. To give some perspective, that’s bigger than pilsner within BA craft so far this year.” To put it less numerically, the hazy IPA craze isn’t just a perceived boom, it’s actually exploded as a big chunk of the craft beer market.

Meanwhile, looking beyond the always popular IPA, Watson identified a handful of other styles that have done well so far this year, though they might not sound as hip as you’d expect: American lager, wheat ale, blonde ale, and kolsch. Watson notes that one thing these styles have in common is that they are “lighter,” an area of beer he believes will continue to grow. “I’m bullish that the larger umbrella of lighter styles and lagers will continue to grow in craft,” he explains. “Craft drinkers are telling us they are more interested in these styles than they were a few years ago.”

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