Brand loyalty and craft beer. These two things don’t have much to do with each other anymore. If you consider yourself a beer nerd then you know what I mean. How often are you going back for the same beer, let alone buying a six-pack of a single type of beer…almost never. As craft beer drinkers we are inherently curious, we want to taste everything out there, we need to know if the next new beer is the best beer we’ll ever have. We are not our parent’s generation who found a beer they liked and stuck to it, afraid that they might “waste” their money trying something that they don’t like, kind of like reverse FOMO. We are a riskier folk who also require copious untappd badges. This poses some interesting challenges for brewers, how do breweries continue to grow and make money once they are no longer “new”?
If you think about current trends in the marketing and retail of craft beer with this question in mind, a few patterns become obvious and begin to make a lot more sense:
Firstly, there is a lot more emphasis placed on the release of seasonal and one-off beers. Core brands are typically not outrageous hop-bombs and sours but tried and true pilsners and well-balanced pale ales (a.k.a. boring). Thus breweries are tending to focus more on their seasonal releases rather than core brands.
Secondly, breweries are coming out with “session” beers in all types of styles. This could very well be a response to the palate fatigue we experience when drinking full flavoured (and high alcohol) craft beers all night. Instead of grabbing six different 6% abv brews from different companies, you might prefer six 4.5% session IPAs so you can still drink flavourful beer all night without getting too drunk and having the bitterness of 30 different hops sitting on your tongue for the next two days.
And finally, the growing popularity of prepackaged mixed packs in the LCBO and beer store. This is a hypothetical win/win, you get still six different beers but all from the same brewery so they are able to make more money on one sale.
These are all perfectly reasonable solutions to selling beer in an increasingly saturated market. But I feel there is some responsibility on us as consumers to recognize the efforts of those breweries who are making really amazing beer, and it’s not exactly what you might call “brand loyalty”.
As a craft beer drinker I cannot be loyal to one brewery, let alone one beer. I am loyal to craft in that I try to support local industry while also drinking interesting and flavourful beers. So in order to ensure that my favourite breweries stay in business I suggest that craft beer drinkers express their appreciation for the hard work that goes into the beer we drink. I don’t just mean tweeting and instagraming what you are drinking, this helps but it is not tangible. If you find a beer that you like, make sure you are vocal about it and not just on social or to your beer nerd friends, but to the people who have control over the purchase of that beer, your server or the cashier at the LCBO. These are the people that the managers are asking, “what sells well?” If you tell them you like it, they may suggest it to another table or customer, and then when the manager asks, they will tell them to order more. If you don’t tell them, they will move on to the next new thing because that is what craft beer drinkers want right?
Thanks for reading! I hope this has inspired you to put in a little extra effort into your small talk during craft beer purchases.