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Whither Beer and What It Connotes?

What's going on here?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, August 07, 2013.

There are two well evidenced but contradictory trends in alcoholic drink sales, both involving beer. The facts are these. With some hyperbole, here in Colorado, or at least Boulder, we have a brew pub about every 45 feet where they serve and make the brews, as ubiquitous as Starbucks. Stranger yet, by common opinion and national reputation, most are quite good. In fact, if there is a growth industry, it's the brewpub. They all seem to do well, and there are cheery media stories of yet more to come, most run by balding and athletic young men in shorts, t shirts, and brimmed hats worn backwards. It looks like fun, and their enthusiasm is obvious. I wish them well.

Just a week ago, tickets to the 2013 Great American Beer Festival held at the Colorado Convention Center in Denver, were gone in twenty minutes. The Festival will begin October 10 and predicts an attendance of 49k with 3k styles of beer provided by 619 breweries. Let's repeat: 3k STYLES of beer provided by 619 breweries. That is impressive, and suggests beer is a booming business on the way up. But it is not.

National statistics tell us that the market for beer is dropping sharply. Gallup polling has stats showing beer plunging while wine and hard liquor sales are up in near compensatory proportion, which would suggest the increased legality of pot isn't a factor. Twenty years ago, beer was America's most popular alcoholic beverage. Now, it's tied with wine. Anyone my age would do a spit take and sneer. But, it's true according to sales receipts. The per capita consumption of beer has fallen 20% in those twenty years. Despite jumps in population growth, annual domestic production is way down, too.

More startling, young drinkers and nonwhite drinkers had the steepest falls in beer preference. This means, the fastest-growing demographics are losing interest in the suds. By these measures, beer seems to be dying off as fast as the Republican base. Maybe it is the Republican base.

So, how to meld into coherence the huge upsurge in well financed local craft beers run by the young and catered to the young with this Damocles sword above them, or better the 10 ton elephant in the room just one stool over.

People who drink beer have had certain understood tastes. People who liked bluegrass and metal music liked beer a lot, were in fact just rural and urban variants of the same social class and economic level and audience. That's oversimplified, but more true than not. When the Recession hit, this was the social class that got hit the hardest, and it was composed mostly of white men, who lost jobs fastest and who have had the most difficulty in recovering. Usually, you'd assume beer sales would go up, but no, they did not.

You may remember when progressive bluegrass started doing some metal tunes as bluegrass numbers and how well they worked. It was a surprise, at first, but on second blush you understood it was the same music to a large degree, and a banjo worked on Bachman Turner Overdrive. Three chords, harmonies hung down from a lead singing tenor. Power folk, to a certain degree. And it seems this demographic, this audience, is drinking a lot less beer for the first time in memory.

Within that twenty percent decline, craft beer is up 15%, suggesting Budweiser, Miller, and Coors are in deeper trouble than initially admitted. It is assumed that craft beer just tastes better and has more alcohol and this is changing the buying habits. Logical, but there is still a decline in potential if these trends are true.

It's also been suggested, wishfully, that perhaps middle America has discovered that wine tastes a lot better and doesn't come with so many digestive and health encumbrances. That corresponds to the stats that bottle water sales have skyrocketed and soda sales are down as well. Tea is up a bit, coffee is down.

New stats out recently suggest that there are fewer obese children than previous for the first time in a while. It's credited to people choosing less sugar in their sodas, and have discovered that the stuff that's good for us tastes as good as that which is not. Is it possible that America - beer guzzling, fried leather chewing America - has deliberately made a wise and healthy choice? Better, can they be finally turning against the sugar industry?

Don't know, but I'd bet that the decrease in beer sales and sugar drinks is not occurring much in the South, bastion of the Republican base.