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The Affluence of Artisanal Beer

Mark Spivak

Craft Beer - the art of artisanal beer - craft beer, ecplainedWould you spend $1,300 for a beer? Within the past year, several people did exactly that on eBay: the first was a bottle of Midnight Sun from California’s Lost Abbey Brewing Co., and the other was a rare magnum of sour beer from famed Belgium brewer Armand Debelder.
   Among collectors, craft beer is obviously the new wine. The demand for the most sought-after craft brews now resembles the hysteria once reserved for cult Cabernets such as Harlan Estate and Screaming Eagle. Many of these beers are produced in small batches and sold only at the brewery, where they sometimes sell out in a few hours. The most exotic of them never get into general circulation—not officially, although a vibrant black market has evolved and driven prices skyward.
   “For a long time, craft beer was an exclusive club,” says Mitch Steele (left), brewmaster at Stone Brewing Co., which has been referred to as the all-time top brewery on Earth by Beer Advocate magazine. “Recently, people’s tastes have changed, and more consumers are willing to experiment. The category is exploding.”


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Mitch Steele, Masterbrewmaster - Stone Brewing Co.   The explosion has gone beyond the community of collectors and into mainstream America. Craft beer now accounts for 10.2 percent of domestic beer sales, with an annual volume of nearly $4 billion, according to the research firm IbisWorld.
    At the same time, demand for traditional, mass-produced beer has plummeted. According to Beer Marketer’s Insights, an industry trade publication, sales of Budweiser declined 28 percent between 2007 and 2012. Even worse: Old Milwaukee dropped 54 percent during the same period, and Michelob Light was down a staggering 70 percent
 Stone Brewing Co. - Indian Pale Ale - IPA  Price does not seem to be a factor. A six-pack of Budweiser sells for between $6 and $8 in most parts of the country, while the same quantity of the Stone Brewing Co.’s IPA (India Pale Ale - right) fetches from $14 to $18. Increasingly, proprietors of upscale liquor stores are finding that the consumer spending money on craft beer is likely to be the same person who buys expensive wine.
   “Craft beer is an affordable luxury,” says Tyler Jones, head brewer at Portsmouth Brewery in New Hampshire, the nation’s first brewpub. “You can spend 10 bucks for a delicious six-pack, versus $50 or $60 for a good bottle of wine. They tend to appeal to the same people. The average wine drinker already has the sophisticated palate that the new craft beer drinker needs.”
 

Continue to page two for insight on the Cicerone Certifcation Program.

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