21- to 24-year-old drinkers don’t think of beer as “sophisticated” or “special,” according to a recent survey.
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The American beer industry as a whole is facing a contradiction. Thanks to the country’s record high number of breweries, currently over 6,300, the quality and diversity of beer is at an all-time high. But at the same time, sales of beer actually decreased last year. Part of the issue might just be a self-fulfilling prophecy: As people move towards higher quality, more expensive beer, they also may be drinking less of it instead of downing Stroh’s by the 30-pack. But new data suggests that the industry could be facing another big problem as well. Though the beer industry has evolved, new, young drinkers’ opinions of beer aren’t really getting any better.

According to a new survey presented by the industry-wide trade group The Beer Institute that asked 200 people from 21 to 24 years of age about their views on beer, wine, and spirits, only 4 percent of respondents who had drank alcohol in the past month viewed beer as “sophisticated.” Though those feelings may jibe with the classic idea of the college kegger, it’s definitely at odds with the sentiment of modern craft beer drinkers who will drive hundreds, if not thousands, of miles just to get a can of something like Heady Topper. Hammering this juxtaposition home is these new drinkers’ opinion of wine: Among that same group, 38 percent viewed wine as sophisticated. The takeaway here is pretty clear: Though longtime craft beer drinkers have seen beer’s image improve, the thought that beer is a high-end product like wine does not appear to have trickled down to younger generations.

Along the same lines, the survey found similar results when asking these twentysomethings whether they thought of beer as “a special treat.” Of people who had drank in the past month, 23 percent agreed with the idea of beer as a special treat. Obviously, that’s an improvement over sophistication, but beer still fared worse than wine and spirits, which were regarded as special treats by 39 percent and 30 percent respectively.

So what do these 21- to 24-year-old drinkers have against beer? It’s important to keep in mind that “craft beer,” as defined by the craft beer trade group the Brewers Association, only makes up 12.7 percent of U.S. beer production overall. Bud Light alone holds a larger market share: 15.4 percent of beer shipped in the U.S. is Bud Light—an insane number eqequalo about one in every seven beers. As a result, it’s probably not surprising that the youngest drinkers, who typically have less disposable income and are ostensibly less experimental with their beer purchases, have the same biases against beer we’ve been hearing for generations. The Beer Institute’s poll found that two of the top reasons people who drink beer don’t drink it more often were that they “don’t like feeling bloated” (44 percent) and that they “prefer options they view as healthier” (42 percent).

Speaking of beer’s health impact, as an interesting aside, the Beer Institute also shared the results of a separate survey that included the American drinking-age adult’s opinions on the new regulation that went into effect requiring chain restaurant to disclose the calories in beer on their menus. The poll found 74 percent of respondents, and 79 percent of women, said they are in favor of the new rules.