changing face of craft beer

here are my latest ramblings in The Growler

THE NEW FACE OF CRAFT BEER IS HERE

Tara Rafiq illustration
You know that phenomenon when something, seemingly out of nowhere, tickles your brain, then takes up residence, and has you ruminating for months? That’s what happened to me at Bart Watson’s key-note speech at the B.C. Brewers’ Conference back in October. The chief economist for the American Brewers Association gave an engaging talk about the state of craft brewing, chock-full of brain tickling stats and his interpretations of what they mean now and for the future. Including this innocuous little slide:
Nothing controversial here, folks. Just that some craft beer drinkers are drinking more craft beer, and say they are doing so because they visit breweries. Isn’t that nice? The industry must love when the already-converted are drinking even more craft. And all breweries had to do was offer appreciators a way to visit them at the source? Pure gold!
So what was it about this slide that grabbed me? It was that number in the middle of the chart: 19 per cent. The largest segment who say their drinking has been positively affected by visiting breweries is my demographic—female-identified folks 45 to 54. Menopausal old biddies for the craft beer win!
After catching my breath from performing my victory lap, I had me a good think about what breweries are doing differently from bars or pubs that is encouraging my people to visit and increase our craft beer drinking. And what else could they do to make even more people come out to mingle and keep the craft beer industry in the black?
I love tasting rooms. I think they’re the best thing to happen to my neighbourhood since they started burying cable. I don’t presume to speak for all women, but here are some of my (very generalized) reasons for visiting a tasting room over a bar or pub: I find tasting rooms friendlier and more welcoming than bars; I can sit alone in a tasting room without anyone insisting I must be there for more than the beer; when I’m at a tasting room for a beer with a friend, we are left in peace to enjoy our beer – any external conversations revolve around beer, not whether we “come here often”; the communal tables encourage making new friends; and servers at craft beer establishments love talking about beer, without mansplaining it to me.
I’m not sure why 45-54-year-olds love the breweries so much more than the 55-64 and 65+ sets. Older folks are worth trying to entice into craft beer. Speaking in gross generalizations again, they have disposable income, lots of time on their hands to drink their way through your entire beer list, and adult children they need to find places to visit with after they finally kick them out of the family home.
The stats tell us breweries are already a welcoming place for many people. What could they do to entice more of the middle-aged set? Here’s my non-exhaustive wish list:
Better lighting
Don’t make me fish out my phone and use the super-useful-but-highly-annoying-to-everyone-else flashlight app to read the menu.
Bigger writing
In that same vein, don’t make me have to swap out my distance glasses for my readers (or vice versa), or hold the menu out as far as my arms will reach.
Lower volume
Even if my hearing wasn’t going, no one likes to have to shout or be a close talker. But don’t make it too quiet, I don’t want everyone to hear my joints groan when I stand up.
Clean washrooms
If your washrooms are decent, I won’t be afraid to use them more than once, which means I’ll stay for more than one drink (and come back again). I’m fond of the non-gendered bathroom, both politically, and because it keeps the line moving faster. I also appreciate the sink outside the stall—I choose to believe it forces handwashing.
Food
I love beer snacks. But if I’ve popped in after work, or between meal times on a weekend, and one drink turns into more, I would like to be able to eat some heartier fare so I don’t fall off my barstool. Don’t make me have to leave the tasting room to find a restaurant or, horrors, go home.
Drink
Offer more than craft beer options.
Events
Make yourself an easy venue for patrons to host casual gatherings.
Staffing
Diverse hiring practices encourage diversity in your patrons.
Once they’ve welcomed more older drinkers, it would behoove breweries to find ways to welcome other groups underserved by and underrepresented in the liquor industry. Expanding the diversity of patrons is good for a brewery’s market share and is also good for the community as a whole. Having more places to gather to hear different voices keeps us all young, and well hydrated.

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