Nation & World

Craft brewers say geography may be the biggest obstacle to growth

Virginian Pilot/TNS

Wasserhund Brewing Co.’s Christine Holley says not relying on food trucks, but rather providing a meal out of its restaurant, has been the differentiator for her brewery.
Virginian Pilot/TNS Wasserhund Brewing Co.’s Christine Holley says not relying on food trucks, but rather providing a meal out of its restaurant, has been the differentiator for her brewery.
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HAMPTON ROADS, Va. — It can be pretty easy to spot the craft beer drinkers in the crowd, and that may be a problem for regional breweries looking to grow.

“They are caricatured as young, Caucasian men with white-collar jobs, likely sport beards and perhaps have a few discreet tattoos, and are outdoorsy on the weekends,” a report from Old Dominion University economists says.

And the data appear to confirm at least some of that stereotype.

In 2015, 86 percent of craft beer drinkers were white, according to a Harris Poll cited by the Brewers Association. By 2018, the percentage had dropped, but only by a half a point.

Most are millennials and those earning more than $75,000 a year.

Those figures aren’t inherently bad news for any industry. As far as age goes, as the report points out, younger millennials will reach drinking age and the older ones will, ideally, begin earning more money.

But there’s a whole world of people out there who might be craft beer customers, too — people who, if recruited, could keep the taps open for years to come.

The number of breweries nationwide rose from 2,898 in 2013 to 6,266 last year. Iowa boasts about 50 breweries. But without adding new customers, could craft beer growth hit a wall?

“A lot of the advice I give to brewers is to think of people as beer drinkers, first,” said Bart Watson, an economist with the Brewers Association.

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The locales that do it well? “It’s because there’s a very pervasive culture of drinking beer, so everyone drinks beer.”

Nonwhite consumers nationwide accounted for 14.5 percent of craft beer drinkers, less than 1 percentage point higher than three years earlier. Blacks accounted for just 10 percent of those drinking craft beer weekly.

Of the 40 percent of the drinking age population that told pollsters they drank craft beer several times a year, 68.5 percent of them are men and 31.5 percent are women — a two point increase since 2015, according to interpretation of the data by the Brewers Association.

In just two localities — Portland, Ore., and the Providence, R.I., markets — women craft beer drinkers outnumber men.

Ask craft brewers, though, and they’ll tell you they already open their doors to anyone and everyone of age and worry more about the volume of breweries and geographical challenges of drawing people in, than addressing diversity for diversity’s sake.

There are only so many breweries a single area can sustain and getting people outside the core clientele has been an ongoing challenge.

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