As Americans buy less beer, breweries, bars and supermarkets shrink

As Americans buy less beer, breweries, bars and supermarkets shrink


More than a decade ago, when Ryan Guerrieri was 20, he became obsessed with craft beer. As breweries launched a non-stop roster of new products, they purchased hundreds of different beers, from bitter IPAs to strong Belgian ales.

“It was exciting to try everything,” said Mr. Guerrieri, now 35 and a human resources manager in Geneva, N.Y.

But with more than 9,500 breweries across the United States, it’s nearly impossible to sample every pilsner and lager, and not all that delicious. “It’s easy to get overwhelmed,” he said. These days, Mr. Guerrieri mainly keeps a small collection of tried-and-trusted brands in his fridge.

Their move toward simplicity reflects broader changes in the beer world. After years of constantly, often weekly, introducing new products, many breweries, bars and supermarkets have reduced the number of drinks they make, serve and sell.

In part, this is a concession to economic reality: Americans are buying less beer, opting instead for spirits and canned cocktails or avoiding alcohol altogether.

As of last November, beer sales in stores had fallen 3.1 percent by volume compared with a year earlier, according to the market research firm. NIQ, Sales at bars and restaurants declined about 4.7 percent. (For craft beer alone, the decline was even sharper: 5.3 percent in store sales and 6.7 percent in bars and restaurants.)

“People aren’t waiting with bated breath for a weekly release,” said Jacob Landry, founder and chief executive of Apple Inc. Urban South Brewery, which has locations in New Orleans and Houston. In 2020, Mr. Landry’s team introduced eight new beers every week. Today, they produce three or four a month.

Whole Foods MarketThe company that helped bring craft beer from small breweries to the mainstream began gradually reducing its beer offerings about six years ago to accommodate beverages like hard seltzer.

Although the company is no longer narrowing its selection, “we are seeking more brands,” said Mary Giver, the company’s chief beer category merchandiser. (He added that Whole Foods now prioritizes brands owned by women and people of color, as well as breweries that use heritage grains and champion carbon-neutral initiatives.)

Craft breweries and their complex beers emerged as alternatives to mainstream lagers that differed primarily in branding, but not in taste. And the brewery’s taprooms became destinations for drinkers who wanted to taste a variety of beers in small sips.

Suarez Family Brewery The one in Livingston, NY, which opened in 2016, offered a beer a size of about eight ounces (about eight ounces), including flavored pilsners and pale ales, which “led to a lot of trouble choosing,” according to brewers and a said brewer Dan Suarez. Owner.

After the brewery closed its taproom during the pandemic, Mr. Suarez switched to the model of traditional European breweries and breweries that serve only one or two beers at a time. In 2022, the taproom reopened with one draft beer, then added a second last year.

New releases are rare for Mr. Suarez, who produces only one original recipe annually. “As a brewer, this is something special to me,” he said.

over the course of a decade tired hands making wine In Ardmore, PA, where he became head brewer, Colin McFadden created hundreds of limited-edition beers. But he thought: wouldn’t it be better to go deeper rather than wider?

In August, he partnered with former Mikkeller Beer art director Keith Shore meeting HouseA bar and restaurant in Philadelphia. There are five cocktails, four wines and five beers available, including easy-drinking light, dark and hoppy ales, which Mr McFadden brews nearby.

“Some choice seemed necessary, but too much choice seemed problematic,” he said. “I have very few people who say, ‘Why are there so few beers?'”

Selling just a few beers is not a new phenomenon. McSorley’s Old Ale House New York City is famous for offering only two house beers on tap: a light and a dark ale. Holy Unholy Brewing In Biddeford, Maine, that tradition is followed by brewing only pale lager and dark lager poured from copper tanks. Guests can choose the amount of foam and try the beer mixed or mixed with lemonade.

“It’s not about how many beers we can make,” said Mike Fava, Sacred Profane’s founder and director of operations. “It’s amazing how many things we can do with beer.”

Focusing on two beers gives the brewery’s brewmaster and president Brian Allen time to refine them. And that selective approach pleases beer distributors who connect breweries with retailers. Overwhelmed by so many brands, Mr. Fava said, “They’re very happy to hear that we don’t have that many beers”.

Montky Cold SnacksIn Montana, it has enjoyed national success with its only beer, a light lager, which is sold in 36 states. “You’re an expert at one thing,” said Jeff Courteau, the company’s vice president of sales.

The downside: If the beer doesn’t sell, “I can’t come out with an IPA a month later,” he said.

The bar may not even have room for extra beer. Many people are rethinking how much beer to buy.

“I don’t need five pilsners,” said Olivier Racinoux, vice president of restaurants and bars. Patina Restaurant Group, headquartered in Buffalo. in patina banner kitchen and faucetA 72-tap sports bar in Boston, the bar converted two taps to kegged margaritas last year and plans to add additional draft cocktails and wines.

Max’s TaphouseSince 1986, the Baltimore beer institution has been purchasing smaller kegs to fill its 113 taps and slimming down its extensive cellar of large-format bottled beers. They’ve gone out of fashion, and the old bottles are “turning into nostalgia,” said general manager Jason Shearer.

Unlike wine, most beers do not improve with age. That’s why bars and shops selling limited selections of liquor attract winemakers like its founder, Bob Kunz. Highland Park Brewery in Los Angeles.

“If some retailers have more than 10 taps they can keep the beer fresh,” Mr Kunz said.

At Highland Park’s taproom, Mr. Kunz is seeing growing demand for a time-honored classic: beer pitchers.

“Nobody has to think about what they’re buying,” he said. “You’ll have a more collective experience if you’re drinking the same beer.”



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