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The death of entry-level craft beer styles?

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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 That’s the largest amount of new brewery openings in a single year since the year Prohibition was repealed.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.

3 Comments

  • Beerwizard72 says:

    I personally got frustrated with trying to find a good American / craft brewed wheat beer, so I stick with Bavarian ones or Blue Moon. Regarding decline in ambers…i perscribe to the hypothesis that beer drinkers palate diversity had grown faster than the overall market due to craft brewing. The effect is less market share for amber styles. Plus every new craft brewer focuses on exotic styles. Who focuses on ambers?

  • Kegs n Eggs says:

    I have no problem tipping back an amber or a wheat, especially in the warmer months. I call those lawnmower beers, meaning beers that I can enjoy while doing yard work. They’ll quench my thirst and aren’t heavy like a DIPA, Belgian, stout, sour or any other “heavier” style. I prefer those “heavier” styles when I’m out at a brewpub, but I think there will always be a place for the amber and wheat styles.

    Additionally, amber and wheat styles make great gateway craft beers. They are styles that can help you introduce craft beer to someone who isn’t familiar or claims they don’t like craft beer. That’s assuming that the amber or wheat styles are of the more neutral variety and not overly hoppy. I love a hoppy beer, but I would say that an overly hoppy beer turns off a new craft beer drinker because they aren’t ready to be bombarded by hops. They want a smooth, balanced beer that isn’t too heavy on the palate. Hook them on that and you can start introducing them to hoppier and heavier styles.

    With the success of IPA/DIPA and overall hoppier beers over the past few years, it seems like every brewer wants to jump on the more hops to everything bandwagon. They’ll throw more hops at styles that don’t necessarily need the influx of hops. Ambers and wheats fall into that category. I love Gumballhead and have brewed my share of similar wheat beers with the hop characteristics of Gumballhead. However, I also like a nice smooth, balanced beer that should be the staple of the amber and wheat styles.

  • Maci says:

    I personally never really liked wheat beers, They have this weird taste that I’m not used to. I don’t like Amber Ales, because I’m not into high alcoholic beers(would you even call them beer?), but they are nothing compared to a porter, which has become my favorite as of late. I am newbie at beers, but I do try every craft I can to see which one I’ll keep as a permanent favorite. So far, I like the Chocolate porters. When I first discovered craft brews, I had no idea they would taste so good compared to the watered down macrobrewers(they are severely watered down!!!) so I have since stopped buying them, I’d pay more for quality, and then get drunk off of crappy beer, and it makes me sort of picky because now I have less of a chance of getting too tanked because of my choices. I’m not to join Ratebeer or Beer Advocate because I think it’s tacky to think that THEY are the authority on beer. I’d rather venture on my own. But of course, that’s my opinion. No one has to agree, ;)

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