Craft Beer and Coffee: What These Drinks of Choice Reveal About American Consumers

Two of the most popular drinks in America are coffee and beer. We’re wild about them (although not usually both at the same time). At the most recent estimate the average American threw back 20.8 gallons of beer and 18.5 gallons of coffee every year, which is kind of insane. Now that doesn’t make America really any different than other countries on its own – unless you count all the tea-drinking countries, which I don’t. But there’s something else that seems to weirdly set the United States apart in its coffee and beer consumption: We aren’t just obsessed with coffee and beer; we’re obsessed with luxury coffee and beer.

Craft beer is the only part of the larger beer market that is actually still seeing growth in the U.S., and it continues to score new and bigger wins against the traditional American beer industry.  Meanwhile, in coffee, cash-cows like Starbucks and the rise of fair trade coffee have long dwarfed some of the cheaper alternatives like Folgers and Maxwell House – and that entirely leaves out instant coffee. In fact, Americans are so fixated on artisan, high-quality coffee, that a few millennial entrepreneurs even tried to create a luxury alternative for instant coffee so they wouldn’t have to cope with the trauma of getting by on cheap instant coffee while living abroad.

The United States Versus Everyone Else

What makes this trend interesting is how it contrasts with much of the rest of the world. For those who drink coffee in many other parts of the world, the usual choice is instant coffee – generally some variety of Nescafe. Instant coffee sales are booming around the world, with products that people are only barely conscious of at all in the U.S. We don’t realize we’re sticklers for luxury coffee – to us it’s just coffee.

The same thing goes for beer. Some countries like Germany also have higher general standards for brewing quality, but most countries, interestingly enough, drink some of our cheaper, mass-produced domestic beers. Bud Light, while the target of so much scorn among young people in the U.S., is a marketing giant here and abroad. It’s up there with Doritos and Coca-Cola in terms of its aggressively large presence on the commercial airwaves. And as a result it’s the third-most consumed beer in the world, while the first two most popular beers are Chinese brands sold primarily in the Chinese market.

“The American market is picky, especially these days,” says Paul Michaels, founder and CEO of National Bartenders. “People want specialization, they want design and detail. It’s less about the buzz and more about the flavor and the experience around it.” There’s a social environment and a certain popular sense of style that seems to have grown up around the rising trends in craft beer and luxury coffee, and it doesn’t exist in the same way for lower grades of coffee and beer.

Why America is Different and What This Means for Marketers

But why are we so stuck on these luxury, artisanal styles of beer and coffee, when beer and coffee used to be so straightforward without frills? Maybe we can blame marketers? Coffee and beer seem to have almost matched wine for the complicated culture that surrounds it. And now more and more beer bottles and bags of coffee come with their countries or cities of origin proudly stamped on the label with in-depth, flowery flavor profile descriptions, strangely reminiscent of wine as well.

Luxury coffee and craft beer have become their own cultures that consumers can find meaning in, although perhaps without as much of the elitism that wine culture seems to suggest. That in itself is probably part of the appeal, but where did these new food cultures come from, and do they offer any sort of guidance or road map for other marketers looking to do the same? One simple explanation could be that these craft food cultures themselves grow out of the longer eating and drinking traditions. We’ve been drinking coffee and beer for a long time, so this developed naturally.

And obviously it would be a dream goal for many marketers to have a product that inspires as much adoration and community devotion as coffee and beer seem to. One take-away is that achieving that level of consumer buy-in isn’t possible unless the manufacturer or supplier takes the product just as seriously. Craft beer depends on brewers that take the quality of their beer seriously, and the same goes for coffee. Many consumers, especially younger ones, just don’t trust the larger, established companies to do that anymore.

5 Must Visit Oregon Breweries And Their Holiday Pours

Planning a quick trip or vacation this holiday season? If you’re a beer lover, you can’t do much better than visiting some of Oregon’s famous microbreweries. Oregon ranks fourth nationally in craft breweries per capita, and with a winter medley of award-winning seasonal brews, there’s sure to be something for everyone. We’ve compiled a short list of fiver breweries you won’t want to miss, along with their seasonal beers. Enjoy!

Rogue Ales – Santa’s Private Reserve

Founded in 1988, Rogue Ales quickly expanded from its original location in Ashland and now operates breweries in several locations throughout Oregon, California, and Washington. Rogue has produced over 60 different regular and seasonal ale varieties. Using a non-pasteurized process and all natural, locally sourced ingredients, Rogue beers have won major awards in worldwide competitions.

Rogue’s seasonal brew, Santa’s Private Reserve, is a delicious double-hopped red with a roasty, malty flavor and a spruce finish, and is recommended to pair with pork and beef.

Widmer Brothers – Barrel Aged Brrrbon

Brothers Kurt and Rob Widmer began brewing beer for themselves and their friends in 1979, and by 1984 they were ready to quit their day jobs and make beer brewing their full-time vocation. They established a brewing company in Portland, and in 1986 they created the first American-style cloudy and unfiltered hefeweizen.

Along with Bridgeport Ales and Portland Brewing Company, Widmer Brothers launched the Oregon Brewer’s Festival in 1988, which is attended today by over 80 breweries and 70,000 people and is the largest outdoor craft beer festival in the country. Not long after, they relocated to the current location in north Portland, where they continue to produce award-winning beers. Rent a car if you’re visiting as it can be the best solution for getting around to the different breweries and making the most of your experience.

Barrel Aged Brrrbon is a version of their winter seasonal ale aged in Kentucky bourbon barrels. It is a smooth winter ale, combining malty sweetness with vanilla, caramel, and oak flavors.

Deschutes – Jubelale

The fifth-largest craft brewery in the United States, Deschutes was founded in Bend, Oregon in 1988. Named after the Deschutes River, the brewery began as a small brew pub and quickly outgrew its original location. The company specializes in non-GMO vegan beers, utilizing a clarifying agent made from Irish Moss, a red algae. Deschutes brewery is also active in community and sustainability, purchasing or offsetting 100 percent of electrical power usage from renewable sources, and donating $1 for every barrel sold to charities.

Jubelale, available September through December, is a deep red ale described by Deschutes as a dark, malty celebration ale with layered flavors and beautifully balanced hopping. It is medium bodied with chicory, spice, earth, and fruit notes.

Full sail – Wassail

One of Oregon’s first microbreweries, Full Sail Brewing Company produced a total of 287 barrels in its first year, and currently brews 130,000 barrels per year. Along with its trademark Amber Ale, Full Sail began brewing Wassail Winter Ale in 1988, a year after opening. A medal winning brew with caramel and dark chocolate malts, Wassail is a deep mahogany color with a hoppy, malty aroma and flavor. Wassail Winter Ale is only available for 90 days, from October to December.

Hair of the Dog – Doggie Claws

Hair of the Dog is family owned and operated microbrewery based in Portland, Oregon. Founded in 1993, the brewery produces creative beers using traditional methods. Hair of the Dog brewery experiments with the barrel aging process, and is one of the first breweries in the United States to produce high alcohol, bottle conditioned beers.

Doggie Claws is a copper colored ale released annually in November. It is a barley, made in the West Coast style with hops and more hops, and is one of their most popular brews.

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By Brett Dugan

By Brett Dugan, a travel writer working for advantage