July 19, 2021

Latest Trends in American Craft Beer

American craft brewers are renowned the world over for developing creative, exciting new beer styles and many are now available in Europe. Here’s a look at today’s most popular beer styles and current trends in the American craft brewing world.

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American craft brewers are renowned the world over for developing creative, exciting new beer styles and many are now available in Europe. Here’s a look at today’s most popular beer styles and current trends in the American craft brewing world:

1.  India Pale Ale (IPA) 

IPA is the most popular beer style in the States with over one third of all sales and the biggest driver of craft beer volume. IPAs are synonymous with American craft brewing and offer hoppy innovation of their own with a variety of iterations from sour, fruited or milkshake to barrel-aged, Brett or Brut IPA. Forty years ago American craft brewing innovation kick-started the craft beer revolution that we now see emulated all over the world and the IPA style was, and still is, at the forefront of that movement.  One of the key reasons for the success of American craft beer is the proximity to highly sought-after hop varieties which allows brewers to constantly evaluate and select the hops they need. Beer lovers know that fresh and well taken care of raw materials make for better beer and by selecting hops varieties themselves brewers can develop flavour profiles in beer that may be difficult to match elsewhere.  This fact is borne out by the number of medals and top honours that American craft beer wins at prestigious international beer competitions. The use of high quality raw materials, relentless innovation, technical brewing expertise and an unswerving commitment to quality ensures American craft beer reaches the beer lover exactly as the brewer intended.  

2. Light beer/Lagers 

We’re seeing the emergence of not just craft lager, but lighter more sessionable styles such as blonde ale, Kölsch, cream ale and they are starting to drive volume for many small and independent American craft breweries. They appeal to the craft beer drinker who may be aging, having been in the category since its inception, and are now looking for styles with a lower ABV that are light, crisp and easy drinking.

3. Sour or Flavoured beers

There are a diverse range of beers that comprise a wide variety of different flavours, but are not hoppy or bitter and not IPAs. They include beers that are fruity, spicy, tart, made with adjuncts such as coconut or cardamom, or brewed with Brettanomyces (a form of wild yeast).  These styles appeal to younger consumers, aged 21-34 who are starting their craft beer journey and more interested in bold flavours and variety than hops and bitterness.

Whether these younger beer drinkers move into the light beer/lager category or jump directly to IPAs will be watched with interest.

In terms of packaging, cans remain a popular packaging format accounting for 54% of all craft beer packed sales, a figure that has more than tripled since 2016.

Despite the pandemic, 2020 alcohol beverage trends in America weren’t that different to other years, but how did the beer market hold up? American craft brewers collectively produced 23.1 million barrels of beer decreasing craft’s overall beer market share by volume to 12.3%, down from 13.6% the previous year. A principal reason for this decline was the shift in how consumers purchased their beer. As pandemic regulations went into effect in March 2020, beer drinkers were unable to visit pubs and bars at the same frequency and looked to off-premise suppliers such as liquor stores and grocery to fulfill their beer needs. This purchasing pattern hit craft beer hardest because the segment has historically been more reliant on the on-premise than the overall beer market. Retail dollar value was estimated at $22.2 billion, representing 23.6% market share and a 22% decline over 2019. Craft brewers provided more than 138,000 direct jobs, a 14% decrease from 2019. 

Despite the ravages of Covid-19 on the American craft beer industry, the number of breweries operating remains at an all-time high of 8,794. It’s been a challenging year, but American craft brewers are ever resourceful and have found new ways to connect with their customer base and keep their businesses open, such as enhanced sanitation measures, new technology to limit personal interaction, maintaining social distancing and new routes to market.

In 2020 we continued to see the beer market move upmarket, otherwise known as premiumisation. The craft sector has been a beneficiary of premiumisation in recent years – people may be drinking less but they tend to buy higher priced products. Premium priced beers (including craft, imports, super premium and flavoured malt beverages) are now approaching a majority in terms of total volume and in dollar sales are much higher. Looking at last year, the steady shift towards premiumisation continued, somewhat surprisingly given the economic destruction wrought by the pandemic, but it looks to be continuing unabated and is likely to continue for another 5-10 years after which it is harder to predict.

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About the author: Lotte Peplow is the American Craft Beer Ambassador for Europe for the Brewers Association and is based in London, UK.  She is a Certified Cicerone®, BDI accredited Beer Sommelier, beer writer, beer communicator, international beer judge, homebrewer and beer lover

About the Brewers Association

The Brewers Association (BA) is the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts. The BA represents 5,500-plus U.S. breweries. The BA’s independent craft brewer seal is a widely adopted symbol that differentiates beers by small and independent craft brewers. The BA organizes events including the World Beer Cup®Great American Beer Festival®Craft Brewers Conference® & BrewExpo America®SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food ExperienceHomebrew ConTMNational Homebrew Competition and American Craft Beer Week®. The BA publishes The New Brewer® magazine, and Brewers Publications® is the leading publisher of brewing literature in the U.S. Beer lovers are invited to learn more about the dynamic world of craft beer at CraftBeer.com® and about homebrewing via the BA’s American Homebrewers Association® and the free Brew Guru® mobile app. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.