According to released figures from the Brewers Association, in 2017 US beer reached yet another milestone, as the total numbers of breweries in operation in the US surpassed 6,000, an increase of more than 700 from the previous year and more than double that of four years ago. Plus, for the first time in history, craft beer sales surpassed a 10% share of the overall US beer industry.  

On the rise in 2017 and expected to continue in 2018 is Americans’ newfound love for light-hued and light-bodied craft lagers and pilsners, which may be due in part to one’s palate having been bombarded with countless options with intense flavors such as bitterness in IPAs and sour and tart notes in barrel-aged and bacteria-spiked beers. However, IPA continues to reign as the top-selling beer style, and will be hard to be dethroned, but the aforementioned sour beers and barrel-aged products are barking at its heels. As evidenced in declining sales numbers, flagship brands of national craft breweries will likely continue to sag as more and more consumers seek out their local brands. 

Restaurateurs Supporting Local Beer

According to Brian Malarkey, owner of several concepts under the Puffer Malarkey Restaurants group, including Herb & Wood, Herb & Eatery, two Green Acre locations, Farmer & The Seahorse and two upcoming projects Herb & Sea and Animae, “The craft beer surge is picking up even more steam. The big brand beer sales are down significantly, and they are reacting swiftly by investing in smaller production, high-quality craft beer producers. The reason for this shift is that customers are looking for history, authenticity and of course, flavor, which is the essence of craft beer. At our restaurants, we pride ourselves on supporting small and local businesses whenever we can and carrying craft beer is just one of the many ways we do this. There is not a better feeling than hearing of the positive impact we have on these purveyors by carrying their product. These individuals are working tirelessly to introduce beers in new, fun and interesting ways so we are happy to celebrate their work and tell their stories. Finally, I love the seasonality of craft beer. It is essential to adjust your food menus based on the season and craft beer allows us to do the same on our beverage menus with new flavors and pairings that our customers return again and again to experience.”

John Kunkel is founder of the 50eggs Hospitality group with Yardbird locations in Miami Beach, Las Vegas and Singapore; Swine and Spring Chicken restaurants in Coral Gables, Florida; and Chica in Las Vegas. In reflecting on how their approach has changed over the years he related, “When Yardbird Miami first opened (in 2011), our beer selection consisted of craft beers from all over the United States and about two years ago we started supporting all the new local breweries. With Yardbird Las Vegas we opened (in 2015) with a large selection of craft beers and all our draft beer was from the state of Nevada. That has worked very well with us and we have continued with that model. Local beer is extremely important to us; it shows our commitment to supporting the local economy, and local sourcing and building relationships with a community is one of our top priorities when entering new markets.  

Andy Masi, founder of CliQue Hospitality with 15 restaurants and cocktail lounges scattered throughout San Diego, Las Vegas and National Harbor, Maryland, spoke about how local beer has become a vital cog in his venues: “Craft beer has become part of the culture in hospitality. It’s very important to carry local beer! For starters, the majority of them are incredible brews. I’m also a big fan of supporting local businesses.  San Diego is one of the epicenters for craft beers; there are so many local beers to offer and the customers are keenly aware of them all so we have incorporated a variety at Oxford Social Club, Lionfish and The Pool House in the Pendry Hotel.  In Las Vegas, we are big supporters of Banger Brewery who does an incredible job of creating great local brews. I believe as far as trends, consumers want high quality, small batch beers. They all have a unique and genuine story behind them and consumers really appreciate that.” 

In summary, while beer sales may be lagging compared to recent years, Americans’ love for craft beer continues to grow. Savvy restaurateurs are well aware of this and will continue to embrace local beer products, not only because the public desires it, but because local beers being produced are very often likely to be as good as or better than their national craft beer company competitors.