Craft beer is overtaking wine: SF mag

“Craft beer is overtaking wine as San Francisco’s beverage of choice,” writes Jordan Mackay in San Francisco magazine’s lengthy spread on the topic.

It’s no surprise: the craft beer story in America is wonderfully exciting, a grass-roots story of bubbling worts in basements, with the rewards of many shades relatively easy to find in the glass. Last year, while beer sales sagged overall, craft beer was up 18% according to Nielsen data and craft beers sell for a 60% premium to mass-market beer (not bad since they have 100% more taste). It’s still a niche market with just 8% of beer sales in 2011, but the core consumer are 21-34 higher income males, a crucial demographic for wine too.

Frankly, the headline that craft beer is overtaking wine in select markets is not surprising. Once you find one that you like, craft beer offers relatively more consistency (no TCA) than wine and a good amount of complexity especially given the value. Sure, given my druthers, I’d have wine. But a good bottle of wine for a weeknight might be $15-$20 for two people while a couple of good beers would be $3-$5. Repeat that most nights for a month and, in an economy that has yet to find a firm footing, it’s not surprising on that calculus alone that craft beer is having its moment. I know that I have reached for some suds from Bavaria, Belgium, Brooklyn and other places that don’t start with B in the past few months.

What do you think: is craft beer a big threat to wine? Is it an either/or proposition? (While wine drinkers might try beer, I’d be interested to know how much “hop heads” experiment with wine.) How often do you crack open a nice cold one?

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21 Responses to “Craft beer is overtaking wine: SF mag”

  1. For years we have had a good balance between wine and beer. Until the last few years we had to wait and go to the UK for good beer (cask ales especially). Now we can get good ones locally (tasting rooms included) as well as regional. We tend to choose one or the other based on what we are eating, but there is room for both in our budget and preference. I believe they complement each other and new offerings may encourage each group to experiment with the other. Of course there is the fickle market driven by fads to deal with.

  2. I manage a bar and don’t see a lot of migration between beer and wine drinkers (though alcoholic ciders are hot here in the Pacific NW), but with new beer flavor profiles, I do think more people are exploring and liking beer than ever before.

    One point that I don’t agree with is the price advantage — A bottle of wine might yield 4 drinks — with premium beer prices these days, a couple of 22 oz. bottles could run about the same $15 as the bottle of wine.

  3. I don’t think it really matters what spirit you begin with. Once you begin developing an objective opinion on beverages, whether it be beer, wine or bourbon, you become interested in drinking on an intellectual level. Once alcohol goes beyond just a means to become intoxicated and your opinion slowly moves from subjective to objective you become open to a broader spectrum of beverages. The economic side of beer is an obvious draw, as is the simplicity of labeling and terminology. An IPA is an IPA is an IPA to some degree. My general rule is that I drink liquor at parties, wine at dinner, and beer when relaxing. I’ll never drink beer at a fine restaurant and I’ll never drink wine at the pub. Situational drinking.

  4. I also have to disagree on the price point issue – some craft beers will run you upwards of $8-$15 a bottle – “a couple of good beers for $3-$5” is ? lack of knowledge? wishful thinking? Now, a couple of bad beers can be had for $3-$5 – think the run of the mill swill that has been mass produced for years. I also object to the commenter who said “an IPA is an IPA is an IPA” – au contraire – not even close to being accurate. This is akin to saying “A Cabernet is a Cabernet, is a Cabernet…

    And so, what does this mean? It means there is much ignorance in the marketplace about craft beer as there is about wine. Education, education, education is the key. An educated consumer will buy your product and continue to buy it…

  5. Hi Richard and Bruce – About price, sure there are more expensive craft beers than the prices I mentioned (esp larger format bottles). But consider that Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Smuttynose, Lagunitas, Cisco brewers and many others can be had for $12/6 pack and you will understand where I got my calculation.

    Patrick – I like your rule of situational drinking and follow something similar myself.

    Richard – education, but perhaps an agreement on terms and vocab?

  6. I see it, particularly among the millennials. They want something distinctive and “quality” at a fair price, and I do believe that craft beer offers that much better than wine and in particular domestic wine.

    What is that $15 going to buy in wine from California—basically something with at least a 100K case production and a California/Lodi/Central Coast appellation. For the same $15, a young consumer can buy a 750ml bottle of some of the best small production Belgian ale or for a six pack of some of the best limited production American craft beer and have $5 left over for the tattoo fund. To simply say that you can drink both wine and craft beer at the $15 price point, glaringly leaves out the difference in quality, production levels and artisanal commitment between the two products.

    It’s also a reason why millennials are increasingly spending that $15 for European wine from secondary appellations rather than mass production Cali or Southern Hemisphere wines, but that’s a discussion for another time and place.

  7. Depends on which part of the country you reside in to a large extent. In CO, MT, WY, WA, OR craft beer is big and there are many choices. Other than white or red wine (a simplification I know) there are many many styles of beer and further tweaking of the style itself with the addition of non-traditional grains and hops. Brewers continue to push the envelope and create interesting beers.

    I would agree that the price point differential between a lower end bottle of decent wine (say $15) and very good craft beer is much narrower than it used to be. I generally pay around $2 per bottle or $12 for a 6 pack of good craft beer. You can easily pay $20 for a bomber of a limited release. Paying $5 for a pint at at a micro or craft bar is not unusual.

  8. Craft beer isn’t cutting into wine sales; it’s cutting into the sales of national beers (Bud, Miller, Coors, etc.)

  9. Btw, do you think that there is less bottle variation in beer than wine? I was surprised to hear two bottles (out of three in the tasting) of beer in that SF mag piece talk about being “light-dtruck.” Surely beer can be cooked/abused as much as wine in transport, so I figured it could be held constant, thus focused on the closure.

    Hi Bill – Yes, the generally poor offerings of value domestic wine is something we’ve discussed before a few times, FYI:

    Frank, thanks for your view. By contrast, a friend of mine holds an annual backyard party with a keg of microbrew IPA. He said so many beer drinkers complained about it being too hoppy etc that he caved and got a 12-pack of Coors Light for this year’s party.

  10. While I was in San Diego I drank a lot of Craft Beer there for the month, and well I did enjoy it the one thing I noticed formyself is I put on my weight then if I just drank wine or more bloated?

    I like my Craft beer but I think of it more of special occasion then a every day drink wine I find on my body is just I dunno easier ?

    that and the good IPA which I like are high calorie ha

  11. Of course a large increase in craft beers is from many a winemaker and staff following the golden rule of production…. It takes a lot of good beer to make great wine. Us in the wine industry do not prefer bad wine or bad beer…hence the choice in craft beers.
    Jason Bull Lewis
    Chatom Vineyards

  12. All of this is right except the consistency/spoilage issue. The absolute number one reason I stopped drinking craft/expensive/good beer is that certain bars and stores and entire warehouses seem to ruin beer en masse. So many drain pours of $20 bottles of oxidized/cardboard/cooked or putrid infected flavored beers was enough to turn me off entirely after about 5 years of what can only be termed “beer obsession”. Getting put on waiting lists for one-offs and buying tickets to meet brewers usually resulted in near 100% “good” beer, but anything short of that effort was rewarded with a spoilage rate of roughly a quarter. So, no, beer is in no way less perishable and therefore more enjoyable to consumers than wine. The lower alcohol content and higher sugar content should make this fact quite obvious.

  13. I think craft beer is a threat wines for sure. Here is how we see it. From the customer/retailers point of view a) shelf space b) ordering budget

    Every time someone comes in, someone has to go out. So the math has to add. If the store is doing the same volume as last year and if spirits and all big beer brands sales are the same. Then you can see how increase in craft beer sales may have a drop on wine sales.

    There are lot of churns from wine to craft beers including women these days – that’s another way to look.

    Wine is a mature category, so craft beers will find its way up, either by effecting wines or leading brands like bud and miller or spirits. But the rule of the store is – is a new sku is coming, some just got kicked out.

  14. I was an avid wine drinker and have in the last year completely switched to craft beer. I fruit it’s easier to find good beer at a price point, consistent year to year, and more fun to be honest.
    I also think Craft Breweries are more exciting to follow. Do a better job marketing, and capture our attention in an unpretentious way. I am from Boston, more of a beer state, and bad wine shipping laws so maybe I am an outlier.

  15. My husband and I are millennials. We often end up drinking good beer over wine because you can get a nicer beer for the same price as a not-as-nice bottle of wine. (As was mentioned in previous comments.) If you gave us the choice between a really good wine and a really good beer and didn’t put price into the equation, we’d both choose the wine.

  16. […] writes that “craft beer is overtaking wine as San Francisco’s beverage of choice.” H/T Tyler Colman, who wonders if “craft beer [is] a big threat to […]

  17. I sometimes taste my husband’s beer. I find it to be really heavy. A meal in itself.

  18. […] yesterday’s post about the advantages that craft beer has over wine, I mentioned both price and more consistency from a lack of cork taint as well as vintage […]

  19. […] Craft beer is overtaking wine: SF mag. First notice I spotted about SanFrancisco magazine’s large spread on beer was in Dr. Vino’s wine blog, with the headline that sure gets some attention. Set aside a little time for all the stories (and, yes, the url is, but start with with Dr. Vino to check out the comments about quality and price (both wine and beer). […]

  20. I work at a brewery in Paso Robles, CA. As you know, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries. There are actually only a few breweries on the central coast (though more have been opening lately). I find myself going out and tasting wine much more often than going to breweries, and the restaurants in the area are still dominated by their wine lists, though at least one specializing in beer has opened in the last year.

    Our most expensive beer is 24 dollars at the brewery, which is on the lower end for a big syrah or cab, which is what it would roughly what would compare from a local winery. And that’s one of the most expensive beers out there period, so I agree that value is generally on our side. We give the drinker something with a story and a complex flavor, which is hard to find in a Californian wine at a comparable price.

    Craft beer is totally more accessible on a more-involved level than wine is to many people. And easier to experiment with and learn for many due to cost. It has been easy for me to get into wine as I can visit several wineries each weekend and never have a repeat for a couple years, but most people have greater access to a local brewery than to a winery, and that also makes a difference.

  21. (Warning: Gross generalization supported by anecdotal evidence–albeit a ton of it–ahead.)

    At the consumer level, I see reverse snobbery taking over. People who are *really* into craft beer seem to be much more outwardly disdainful of wine and people *really* into wine than the other way around.

    “They” view wine and its culture as somewhere between weird and annoying. Pinot Noir is only worth “their” attention when Dogfish Head blends it into Red & White.

    Most wine lovers under a certain age and virtually every winemaker I’ve encountered also dig good beer.

    It appears to be a one-way gateway. So I hope Millennials who like drinking things that taste good keep their (I should say, our) hearts and minds open to wine.


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