The death of entry-level craft beer styles?

This year’s Craft Brewers Conference officially kicked off last night with its opening reception inside Washington, D.C.’s Air and Space Museum—which featured a plethora of rockets and space craft to study while drinking regional beer—but this morning, the event got down to business with its opening keynote address and general session.

One of the spotlights of this opening session is the director of the Brewers Association Paul Gatza’s “State of the Craft Beer Industry” address, a fact-and-figure-based analysis of where craft beer’s going. There’s a lot to digest—and a lot of positive growth news—but here’s what I found most interesting as it relates to you, the craft beer consumer.

The decline of entry-level craft beers.
According to Gatza, amber lagers and wheat beers are losing steam. Sales of the two styles have declined significantly in the last year within the craft beer market, which is a trend he suggests might continue. On the flipside “other specialties,” a kind of catchall experimental category (think 100-percent Brett beers and other wonderful oddities that don’t fit into traditional styles) is the second-fastest growing category. I find this fascinating.

Have consumers suddenly lost interest in amber lagers and wheat beers? Is the general palate shifting toward the brave and sometimes bizarre new suds coming out of craft brewery taps? Or, is this simply the result of macrobreweries’ increased interest in amber lagers and wheat beers?

I suppose the real answer would come from you. Have you personally moved away from those two styles?

Other noteworthy items:

* States with the most brewery openings last year (California and Colorado) are also states that already boasted the most breweries.

* In 2012, the Brewers Association documented 409 craft brewery openings in the United States, with 1,254 more breweries officially in planning stages. That’s the largest amount of new brewery openings in a single year since the year Prohibition was repealed.

* Last year, there was a 72-percent growth in U.S. craft beer exports.

* The craft beer industry currently employs roughly 108,000 people nationwide.

Posted on Wednesday, March 27th, 2013