3 Beer Graphics Everyone Should See

Posted on November 28, 2011 by

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I’ve recently come across a lot of beer-related infographics, charts and other visuals. Some are less useful, but others are actually quite compelling or thought-provoking. I wanted to point out three today and provide some interesting perspectives on beer and the beer industry.

1. The Very Many Varieties of Beer

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I’m a brewer, and I’ve experimented with a whole lotta recipes, and I was still shocked to see how many styles and categories of beer are available today. For those going “This chart makes less sense than Herman Cain’s opinion on Libya” – beer is generally split into two categories: ales and lagers.  I’m painting with very broad strokes here, but, in the U.S. at least, ales are generally fruitier, fuller-bodied and more complex, whereas lagers are generally milder, lighter and simpler.As the visual shows, things get more complicated from there, with both ales and lagers being split into more and more specific sub-categories. All the non-circles are commercially available examples of that respective variety.

That might’ve been a gross over-explanation, and maybe visual itself is incredibly straightforward (I really just wanted an excuse to link that ridiculous Cain video). Either way, when you consider this chart with the info from graphic #2, things get a lot more interesting….

2. U.S. Market Share for Beer

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More than anything else, this one shows you just how small the U.S. craft beer market – aka “Specialty Brewers” – is, even in the craft-crazy times of today. Moreover, every “logo” in that chart represents a lager brand. That is, Bud Light, Budweiser, Busch, Heineken, PBR, Corona, and all the rest of are, quite specifically, lagers.

Now, I’m not a lager-hater. Certain lagers are wonderfully crisp, refreshing and just what I’m looking for if the occasion is right. Not only that, but as visual #1 shows, there is a very wide variety of lagers capable of being produced, from bocks, to rauchbiers, to bohemian pilsners. My issue (one that seems more widely shared as craft beer awareness increases) is that those above lager brands all fall into the “American Adjunct Lager” category (aka “domestic” beer) from visual #1.

Why does that matter? It matters because most of the beer being consumed in the U.S. is, more or less, one single style of beer. And it’s not like our palates or tastes have evolved over time to simply prefer this one style. The complete dominance of domestics has more to do with a series of  historical events and government policies than consumer taste preference. Which leads me to…

3. 110 Year Brewery Count

As the above chart shows, Prohibition (1920-1933) basically put most breweries out of business in the early 1900s. What followed was the rise of low-cost, large-scale beer (lager) production, and the ensuing rise of companies like Anheuser-Busch and Coors Brewing Company. As homebrewing wasn’t even legalized until 1978, beer experimentation had thus far been obviously limited. As you can see, we’re only now reaching the level of brewery proliferation (and corresponding beer style variety) that existed 110 years ago. The shame is that basic lagers still dominate the market, even though most drinkers today never really asked for that.

Simplistic Analogy: Imagine the government decided to ban the production of all TV shows starting today. The Office, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Dexter, How to Make in America, Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, and everything else that keeps our DVR filled to 98.7% capacity – all shut down. 10 years from now, the ban is suddenly lifted, but no production studios exist anymore, and all brewers directors  writers, and actors have moved on to work in other industries (please humor me and pretend that the film industry simply does not exist).

What would happen? I think you’d see certain people return to making TV shows. But, with the public so TV-starved and the industry so insecure, these people would play it safe and only produce low-flavor low-risk, low-budget, easy-to-produce and easily replicated TV. That’s right: we’d be swamped with reality TV.* We’d wonder where the “good stuff” went, but we’d accept something over nothing until, decades later, the infrastructure would be in place for us to demand higher quality beer TV. 

*That we actually are swamped with reality TV now really begs the question: what kind of quality do we really demand?

More Simplistic AnalogyBud, Coors, Miller,  McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s

Of course, you can’t really argue with the domestic brewery strategy: AnheuserBusch and MillerCoors consistently produce cheap beer that gets sold in massive quantities, always tastes the same, and is clearly enjoyed by many, many consumers.

Enjoyed…but preferred? This is a question that the craft beer industry often tries to address. Domestic beers occupy 95% of the U.S. beer market, but would 95% of U.S. beer drinkers prefer domestic to craft beer if given a blind taste test? Maybe, but I highly doubt it. I also doubt that 95% would prefer craft beer. I suspect that preference would be less lopsided in either direction.

So, what’s a beer drinker to do? With American breweries more numbered now than they’ve ever been in our country’s history, options for beer (craft especially) are only more and more varied. But, even within craft, it’s not all going to be good. Breweries of every size need to be consistently tried, tested and evaluated. I say: sample as much as you can, stay open to “new” but stay critical, and spread the word about breweries that keep doing it right. When we launch Night Shift Brewing in early 2012, we welcome you to judge us, too.

Posted in: Beer Industry