We live in an age of ‘big data’, one where even craft beer isn’t immune to cold, hard stats.
Statistics juggernaut Nielsen’s recently released reams of data that shed a unique light on the US’ current “craft” landscape. The fact of the matter is, the vast majority of the country’s most popular craft beers are either produced by large-scale firms like Molson Coors and Heineken, or by independent brewers which those companies have invested in and acquired, boosting their market penetration.
Brewers, marketers and drinkers all disagree on what “craft” should mean. The Brewer’s Association, the US equivalent of the Society of Independent Brewers, has one of the stricter definitions in the industry:
American craft brewers are “small, independent and traditional”: “small” is defined as an “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less”; “independent” is defined as at least 75% owned or controlled by a craft brewer; and “traditional” is defined as brewing in which at least 50% of the beer’s volume consists of “traditional or innovative” ingredients.
But we’re not here to quibble over what constitutes a craft beer. That’s the beauty of data, it is what it is, and these are the most popular craft beers on the market right now.
10. Sweetwater: Sweetwater Brewing Company, founded by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerny in Atlanta, Georgia in 1997, witnessed 17% growth over the same period, with sales totalling $25.5 million.
9. Goose Island: Goose Island’s sales grew 6.4% in 2017, giving the AB InBev-owned brand a value of $28.1 million.
8. Shock Top: Shock Top, also owned by AB InBev, hasn’t performed as well as the others in this list, with sales falling 12.9%. Nonetheless, Americans bought more than $30.4 million of the brand’s products over the 12 month period.
7. Leinenkugel: Wisconsin-based Leinenkugel’s, which comes under the Molson Coors portfolio, also saw a sales dip of 5.4%, but still ranks in the top 10, with a value of $37.8 million in 2017.
6. Shiner: Americans bought $39.8 million of Shiner beers in 2017, down just over 3% on the previous year.
5. New Belgium: New Belgium’s sales stayed fairly steady between 2016 and 2017, with a modest rise of 1.3%. Sales were valued at $44.6 million according to Nielsen.
4. Lagunitas: Lagunitas has held a controversial place in the beer world since it was acquired by Heineken in 2016. Nonetheless it still retains a position as one of the top 5 craft beers in the US. Americans bought $58.7 million Lagunitas beers in 2017, a rise of 12.1%.
3. Sierra Nevada: Sierra Nevada sales were also steady compared to the rest of our list, with a slight decline of 0.4%. The brewer made $64.4 million last year.
2. Samuel Adams: Known for its lager, Samuel Adams is the second most-popular beer in the US, despite sales falling by 11.1% to $71.4 million in 2017. The brand holds a 6.7% share of the overall craft beer market stateside.
1. Blue Moon: Perhaps unsurprisingky, the most-valuable craft beer in the US is also one of the most controversial — Blue Moon — which was created by Molson Coors’ executive Keith Villa in 1994. Americans bought more than $118.2 million worth of Blue Moon wheat beers last year, and with a market share of 11%, the brand is still growing.