It must be witch craft

With premium ingredients, nuanced styles, seasonal offerings and consumers’ desire to try things novel and different, craft beers are casting a spell on consumers.

Management at Fruit Center Marketplace in suburban Boston added something new to the product mix this past December—a beer case chock-full of local craft brands.

riptideAmong the offerings are Mayflower, Blue Hills, Waschusett, Jack’s Abbey, Cisco Brewers from Nantucket and single bottles of IPA, Coffee Porter and Golden Ale from Berkley Beer Co., a one-man operation brewed in a barn in Berkley, Mass., and only sold in a handful of retailers.

“There is a sort of a renaissance now with local breweries so we decided to start carrying them and they are doing really well,” says Michael Dwyer, marketing director at Fruit Center Marketplace.

This renaissance is something Ian Joskowitz, the chief operating officer of the five-unit New York City-based Westside Market NYC found out five years ago when he added craft beers to his store. “It was difficult to compete against these pharmacies that were practically giving cans of Budweiser away for nothing,” he says. “The way to differentiate us and do something our competition can’t do is to offer craft beers. They are better beers in general, and more interesting.”

Today he stocks more than 300 varieties in his 110th Street flagship store. “We have quite a bit from Vermont, Massachusetts, New York. If it is absolutely local it is gold,” he says.
Last year, thanks in part to craft beer for the first time in several years, the beer category actually saw a market share increase, albeit a small 1.3% one, says Gary A. Hemphill, managing director, research, at Beverage Marketing Corp., based in New York. “We’re seeing more variety packs, seasonal selections and new styles emerging,” he says. “All of these developments are popular with consumers and continue to drive craft beers.”

“The consumer these days is very much interested in authentic and artisanal,” says Hugh Sisson, founder and CEO of Heavy Seas Brewery, based in Halethorpe, Md. “The craft beer market today is sort of where the California wine industry was in the mid ‘80s. There is a lot of exploring. A lot of new players coming in and coming out.”

Heavy Seas makes fairly substantive beers and focuses on balancing the flavor profile, says Sisson. Its portfolio includes an IPA, pils and a classic stout, along with four seasonals. “Then we have fun with our Unchartered Water Series, where we do some pretty outside the box things, like our Siren Noir, a Belgian Chocolate Stout, that was aged in bourbon barrels.”

Major brewers have taken notice of the trend and have stepped up their craft offerings.

Anheuser-Busch counts Shock Top and Goose Island among its craft brands. “The Shock Top family continues to grow in popularity and Shock Top Honeycrisp Apple Wheat is the newest member of the family,” says Mike Potthoff, vice president of large format for the St. Louis-based brewer. “Throughout the craft segment, Goose Island’s beers are recognized, respected and loved. To meet the increasing demand for Goose Island beers, 312 Urban Wheat Ale, Honker’s Ale, IPA and the seasonal offerings are now offered nationwide.” Potthoff says Anheuser-Busch works closely with retailers to maximize their beer set. “We use market-level data to analyze a store’s competitive market and then use that data to provide actionable recommendations and solutions,” he says.

To improve sales, retailers should help educate beer drinkers, says Jake Leinenkugel, president of Chippewa Fall, Wis.-based Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Co., a division of Chicago-based Miller-Coors. “A beer section ranging from invitation or introduction craft beers and spanning all the way to more experimental beers can be beneficial,” he says, citing his popular Summer Shandy as an “invitation” craft beer while the more robust Big Eddy lineup, including brews like Wee Heavy Scotch Ale, is at the other end of the spectrum.

“More and more beer drinkers are getting into craft beer, so giving them a guide or flow can ensure their visit to your beer section is educational versus overwhelming,” he says.

With more than 2,400 craft brewers operating in the country, deciding which brands to stock can be a quandary, says Jim Koch, founder and brewer at The Boston Beer Co., the Boston-based brewer of Samuel Adams. “It is important to know whether or not the beer tastes good, which means determining whether it is fresh and made with quality ingredients,” he says. “Most people don’t realize that, except for a few high alcohol beers, craft beer should be no more than four or five months old.”

That is why Samuel Adams has put “legible freshness dating” on all of its beers, says Koch.

Now in cans
Just about all craft beers are packaged in bottles, but cans are starting to make inroads.
Boston Beer is rolling out the Sam Can, which was designed by a professional beer taster, innovative design team and a can manufacturer. “Our can has a larger, wider lid that helps open your mouth allowing for more air flow and the can opening is located slightly farther away from the edge of the lid, placing it closer to the drinker’s nose to help accentuate hop aromas,” Koch says.

Narragansett Brewing Co.—initially founded in 1890 and billed as the oldest brewery in New England—prides itself on its cans. “Our trademark is our 16-ounce can of ’Gansett,” says Zac Antczak, field marketing manager, Massachusetts, for the Providence, R.I.-based brewer. “You get more than a traditional 12-ounce and in this day and age with everyone being green, cans are easy to recycle. It really identifies with our demographic, which is the younger generation.”

While ’Gansett is produced by a contract brewer, Founders Brewing produces its beer at its own brewery in Grand Rapids, Mich.  Distributed in 25 states, Founders’ 19 labels include Centennial IPA, the 8.3% alcohol content Dirty Bastard and All Day, a 4.7% alcohol brew introduced in March that is already the second best selling beer in Founders’ portfolio.

“We don’t sell beer in a bottle; we sell a story in a bottle,” says Mike Stevens, CEO and co-founder. Starting in July, that story will also be told in cans as Stevens has invested $2.4 million installing a canning line.

“As long as you are investing the necessary dollars in a good quality canning line your quality is going to be equal to or greater than bottles,” Stevens says. “Cans offer a few advantages that bottles don’t,” he says. “Cans are better served for boating, camping and golfing so it will help us reach a broader market. Cans also allow for a package that has no light penetration, which is better for the beer. Light degradation on beer is a problem. Bottles tend to lend themselves to that,” he says.

Bobbing for cider
There is a craft behind creating the perfect hard cider. The hard cider category more than doubled last year and because of that new players are entering the category, say industry officials.

“Cider drinkers tend to skew younger—21 to 29—than our target upscale imported beer drinkers, prefer variety and flavors and value good health,” says Charles van Es, senior director, portfolio team, at Heineken USA in White Plains, N.Y.

Heineken imports Strongbow Hard Cider, a 125-year-old brand from England. “Strongbow is the number-one brand globally with a 19% share, and has the highest repeat purchase rates in the cider category, so we are incredibly excited to grow this brand in the U.S.,” van Es says.

Domestic hard ciders are also growing in popularity. Fatty Bampkins Maine Draft Cider is modeled after Irish ciders, which are drier and less sweet than American hard ciders, says Brandon Greer, sales manager at Blacksmiths Winery, based in South Casco, Maine. “We found that the ciders age best in bourbon barrels so we use old Jim Beam barrels,” he says. “We use eight specific varieties of apples, all grown in Maine, and five different yeast varieties.”

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