If you read as many online articles as I do, I’m almost certain that you’ve seen headlines like Forbes’ “5 Industries millennials are ‘Killing’ (And Why)” populating your news apps and feeds. From economic and educational issues to political correctness, “safe spaces,” gender identity, and on, we millennials are responsible for ruining everything. So what do the walking, talking “Participation Trophies” of the world have in their sights now? It’s the beer industry.
Truthfully, the beer industry has seen a lot of disruption over the past decade. We saw the craft beer boom scare the Christ out of larger companies like AB Inbev and MillerCoors. Then, we saw these two giants merge and acquire successful, beloved regional craft breweries to “diversify” and make up for lost revenue. More recently, the growth of the industry has slowed significantly. An early August article from Fortune.com headlined “The Craft Beer Boom Has Gone Flat” points out that “Mid-year figures from the Brewers Association, the trade group for independent brewers, shows that American craft beer production volumes increased 5 percent in the first half of 2017. That’s slightly less than 2016’s mid-year increase of 8 percent and notably lower than the 16 percent mid-year production increase of 2015.”
In June of this year, Goldman Sachs downgraded stocks for Boston Beer Co. and Constellation Brands noticeably. A CNBC.com article about the downgrade stated that “Goldman not only suggests that young drinkers aren’t consuming as much alcohol as previous generations did, but they also observed that millennials are trading beer for wine and spirits.” The article went on to back up that statement with Nielsen panel data showing that “beer penetration across the United States is 25 percent year to date versus 26 percent in 2016” while “wine and spirits’ penetration was stable at 23 percent and 14 percent, respectively.”
There are plenty of questions we could ask to find the reason for this change. Is it that millennials are more health-conscious than past generations and the alcohol-to-calorie ratio of beer is super high? Could it be that alcohol sales are down overall because marijuana is actually taking over more of the mind-altering substance market? Or, is it that beer is a decidedly ’Merican beverage and millennials are all godless, red-white-and-blue-hatin’ commies!? The answer to the others is, undoubtedly, yes, to some degree (except for the last, was just for fun). Does this mean that millennials are really killing beer, though?
Though the dates that exactly define a millennial can be murky, I don’t think millennials are ruining the beer industry. Their habits and preferences are definitely a contributing factor for the downturn in beer sales, but there is one big thing to consider that no one really talks about.
I think that one of the biggest detriments to the entire beer industry is itself. Big beer and craft beer have been viciously fighting one another since the first major acquisition of a craft brewery. Companies like Budweiser have made television commercials that make fun of fruit or spiced beers (while simultaneously buying up the breweries that make them, which is hilarious). Then, on the other side, the Brewers Association has changed their guidelines for inclusion to try to keep any brewery that “sold out” off of their playground. They even made it harder for big beer and their subsidiaries to enter the Great American Beer Festival competition this year despite the fact that many of the beers created by those companies consistently win medals.
As a huge fan of beer and someone who worked in the craft beer industry for 15 years, I’m over it. There is too much going on in our crazy, mixed-up world for my leisure time beverage to be a polarizing political statement. I generally drink craft beer and more specifically local craft beer, but I also like to drink Coors Banquet or a Stella Artois from time to time. I totally get why the war exists, and sure, it may have helped sales of both big and craft beer when it started, but, I think it’s time to put the dick-measuring sticks away. The echo chambers on each side of the battlefield are so full of regurgitated hot air, beer nerds like me are suffocating. Also, when each side is focusing so hard on what the other one is doing and how to stand against it, they naturally focus less on their own product. That’s not good for anyone.
Millennials aren’t killing beer. If anything, beer is killing beer faster than liquor, wine, or weed ever could. Once the beer industry rhetoric becomes less toxic and the powers that be on both sides focus on lighting a candle rather than cursing the darkness, I think we could see another rise in sales. Now, I could be wrong. Regardless, the important thing to take away from this is that nobody really talks about the beer war hurting the industry. Every positive change starts with a dialogue. You both like beer, for Christ’s sake! There’s a start!
I urge you as a craft or big beer fan to enjoy your beverage of choice peacefully. Learn to appreciate the preferences of others without turning your time spent at the bar, which is supposed to be a time of relaxation and fun social interaction, into a judgmental douche-fest. That’s what election season is for.
Sean Moriarty is a digital marketer by day and an avid beer & film nerd by night.