In continuation of our examination as to the state of craft beer business in Oregon, we here at Cosgrave Vergeer Kester have noticed a bit of a split when it comes to current market trends. It all started at a recent tapping of Pliny The Younger.
As kegs of the much-sought-after beer began appearing at Portland bars, so-called “whale hunters” (a moniker given to those devotees who strive to taste rare, well-regarded beers) began posting pictures of their coveted 10-ounce pours to social media, reveling in their adept ability to seek out such beers. A chance stop-in at a local North Portland beer bar on a Tuesday evening revealed that tickets for pours of Pliny The Younger had been sold or auctioned off in advance, but, curiously, the server assured the group that if we waited until 10pm, there would likely be beer left in the keg and we could purchase 10-ounce pours at that time. This got us thinking—are rare and super-rare beers the future of craft or is this quest for rarity a product of craft beer no longer being an “outsider” beverage, pushing adherents to differentiate themselves from newer beer drinkers? We think it’s merely half the equation when it comes to the modern craft beer consumer.
If this one keg of Pliny The Younger can serve as a symbol for the craft beer market as a whole, what does it say? Of the 15.5 gallons consumed of the keg, dedicated disciples of that certain beer and rare ones like it–those beer drinkers who plot their beer drinking methodically–would consume the vast majority. However, the rest of the keg would simply be available to those who happened upon the tapping, who were unaware of any pre-sale of ticketed pours. Combine this last part of the keg with the increased popularity of so-called “lawn mower beers” and session beers, and we see a segmentation of two different sets of consumers.
Over the past year or so, the popularity of the craft light lager and ale has exploded. Such beers are typically marketed by hinting (either overtly or covertly) at embodying the more desirable aspects of mass-market lighter lagers: drinkability, low ABV, and satisfying crispness. This isn’t to say such beers are akin to Keystone Light, but rather that they offer an experience of ease, rather than one hampered by higher ABVs or stronger flavor. While dovetailing easy-drinking qualities and a craft pedigree, these beers offer something approachable and, frankly, delightful. The backbone of such brews appears to be the specialness of being un-special—a beer for the everyman. This type of beer is free from the planning, premeditation and exclusivity associated with rare beers.
As grows craft beer’s popularity, so too the sophistication and segmentation of its audience. On the one hand, we see the rarefied air of the curated beer tapping, which typically appeals to seasoned beer consumers. Conversely, a meaningful population of beer drinkers, both seasoned and new, is driving this sales and popularity spike in smaller, lighter beers of a decidedly inclusive variety. By targeting both of these segments in the craft beer market, a brewery stands to diversify their brewing portfolio, strengthen their offerings and speak to a wider audience. Seeking out rare beers and enjoying an easy-drinking craft light beer aren’t diametrically opposed experiences; they’re the sign of thriving times to come for Oregon’s breweries.