By: Eli Frishman | Business  | 

Millennials, Microbreweries and the Changing Beer Industry

The most exciting part about the largely uneventful 2019 Super Bowl came from a “Game of Thrones”-inspired Bud Lite commercial lambasting Miller and Coors Lite for using corn syrup in their products. But while these beer conglomerates duke it out in a frivolous argument inciting the wrath of corn farmers nationwide, microbreweries are popping up around the country and changing the landscape of the beer industry.

According to current beer trends, major beer companies have more to be worried about than just corn syrup. In 2018, combined U.S. beer sales for Bud, Miller and Coors Lite declined by 4.2 percent from the previous year. There have also been significant drops in consumer preference for beer. In 2002, beer comprised 54 percent of the alcohol market, but by 2017 that number was down to 46 percent. Although, overall, beer has been in decline, craft-beer sales continue to rise with 2018 witnessing over four billion in total sales.

The answer to these trends might not surprise you: millennials. While our parents and grandparents generation were satisfied with just a regular cold one, our generation requires that a beer be unique.

Today, there are over 6,000 microbreweries in operation in the U.S. alone. These small businesses create many jobs for local economies. A study by the economics firm John Dunham & Associates titled “Brew Serves America” found that microbreweries accounted for close to 17,000 jobs while brewpubs accounted for 9,289. Microbreweries are so prevalent that the Brewers Association recently reported that 85 percent of Americans live within ten miles of a brewery.

Unlike the big-name providers that offer only a handful of options, microbreweries offer a wider array of beer flavors and brew types, appealing to very specific interests. Some of the eclectic and creative selections include a Hoptimus Prime Double IPA, a Sheep Shaggar Scotch Ale and a Rogue Shakespeare Oatmeal Stout. While major brands like Sam Adams and Blue Moon have various seasonal and IPA offerings, it's clear that they’re playing catch-up with the little guys.

And it's not just the different options. Many microbreweries also double as brewpubs where a visitor’s bartender is the same guy who crafted the beer. These brewpubs offer tours of the plant where participants can partake in samples of all the various brews. This tight-knit feel not only creates great vibes, but in the process also creates strong customer loyalty. Yoni Weisberg (YC ‘20), who recently visited a brewpub called Steel-Toe brewing in St. Louis Park, Minnesota, noted, “Besides for my tart-raspberry-wheat beer tasting delicious, the brewpub also had this rustic and homey feel to it. The bartenders were more than happy to talk about the variety of beers they had on tap, all brewed on site in the next room over.” Yoni’s experience is just one of the many occurring throughout the country, contributing to the success of microbreweries.

The locations of many microbreweries are also off the beaten path. Steel Toe Brewing is built in an industrial area and many microbreweries were at one point in time churches, bread factories, fire-houses and even prisons. This repurposing is also environmentally and cost-effective. Instead of having to tear down a building or starting from scratch, developers simply use an existing structure and make any necessary repairs to get the building ready for brewing, simultaneously giving it a cool feeling.

Ironically, a major problem confronting microbreweries is growth. For many microbrewery patrons, the appeal isn’t simply the product as much as it is the road-less-traveled by allure. When microbreweries expand their sales and customer base, their loyal consumers often turn elsewhere in search of the next best-kept secret.

While the unique flavors and experience might be the main factor for the success of microbreweries, it might not be the only. Beyond beer, and perhaps even indicative of the morale of our generation, millennials are more likely to support small businesses than other generational groups. A 2017 study by AT&T found that over half of millennials (ages 16-34) were willing to pay more to support small businesses compared to 38 percent of Generation X (ages 35-49) and 42 percent of baby boomers (ages 50-75). These statistics may also help explain the coffee industry seeing smaller locally-owned coffee stores competing for market share with giant chains like Starbucks and Dunkin.

Luckily for New York City residents, there are plenty of microbreweries to quench any thirst. If you’re 21 or older and looking to experience a microbrewery, head over to one of the many NYC locations. Or as Purim approaches, maybe it's time your seudah feature a Washington Heights brewed beer.