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Lighter beers on the rise: CBC 2017

April 14, 2017
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CBC 2017 concluded today in Washington DC

India Pale Ale is still driving craft beer category growth in America, but some lower alcohol beer styles are also showing encouraging signs, the Craft Brewers Conference 2017 heard this week.

IPA grew at 22 per cent in 2016, well beyond the overall craft category as defined by the Brewers Association, chief economist Bart Watson said on Wednesday.

“I’ve been on stage here at CBC for four years, which means I’ve got to talk about IPAs four times,” he joked. “This year is no different.”

However, Watson said there were some new trends emerging in lighter styles, led by golden ale (up 51.2 per cent) and saison/farmhouse ales (up 44.4 per cent).

Also in growth were pilsner (up 12.1 per cent), wheat beer (up 11.9 per cent), Belgian wits (up 11.4 per cent) and other pale lagers (up 9.2 per cent).

“I think there’s a bunch of reasons for this, we’re starting to see an ageing consumer that’s maybe looking for something a little more sessionable,” he said.

“We’re seeing brewpubs and taprooms as community gathering places… we’re attracting more people in, so we need to have beers for more occasions.

“Finally, I think we’re just seeing that this is the biggest part of the beer market, and as craft has grown we’re starting to tap into the wider beer market, so we have to be making lighter styles. That’s still the vast majority of the US beer market,” Watson said.

Spectre of 0.05 looms
There may be further cause for lighter beers in America, if more states follow Utah’s lead on drink driving laws, lowering the legal blood alcohol limit to 0.05 per cent.

BA director Paul Gatza said this development in March was very concerning for brewers.

“That could have a chilling effect on beverage alcohol sales, on restaurant businesses. This is scary if it starts to spread to other parts of the country,” he said.

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