5 factors driving the evolution of Minnesota beer

4. There’s an App for That

Untappd-iconBeer aficionado Charles Awad thinks the democratization of beer critiquing has been a major force in building consumer interest. While sites like Beer Advocate and Ratebeer introduced this concept over a decade ago, the 2010 launch of the Untappd app has brought beer reviewing into the mainstream. Over a million people log the beers they drink on Untappd, drawn by a combination of crowd critique, gamification, and social media functionality.

Awad says Untappd “affords newer craft beer drinkers the freedom to express their thoughts without judgment, and encourages many of them to try more styles and producers.” The competitive push to earn badges and rack up ever-higher numbers of unique beers leads to a kind of serial drinking mentality, in which drinkers pursue new beers like birdwatchers ticking off species. Says Awad: “I’d dare say that a lot of newer breweries would see a lot fewer people walk through their doors if not for the ‘birder’ lifestyle of these patrons.”

5. The Total Wine Effect

Total Wine

Photo via facebook.com/TotalWineBurnsville

The entry of mega-store Total Wine into the market has created dramatic ripples in the retail side of Minnesota’s beer scene. The company draws customers into the store by selling items at or near cost. Once there, consumers are steered toward proprietary brands, on which Total Wine enjoys a significant markup.

This strategy has resulted in a price war that has placed significant pressure on smaller stores that do not enjoy warehouse-sized sales volumes or the backing of a large, national corporation. Some have responded by touting their knowledgeable staff and attention to service. But the service element has limited appeal among price-conscious consumers.

This intense competition is a net plus for drinkers looking to stretch their beer budget. But it comes with a cost, as more service-oriented stores succumb to the pressure. The Total Wine effect has been cited as a contributing factor in the Four Firkins’ demise.

What’s to Come?

These are indeed exciting times to be a beer lover. The Brewers Association reports 1.5 new breweries open each day nationally; there are more than 2,000 breweries in planning. With all the brewery expansions, a new cadre of beer barons is ascending. Boston Beer’s Jim Koch recently reached billionaire status, and pioneers like Sierra Nevada and Deschutes are opening second and third breweries to expand their reach nationwide. Some breweries like Lagunitas, which sold a 50-percent stake in their company to Heineken, have their sights on taking their beer global. American beer is enjoying a growing export trade and influencing a renaissance of small brewing internationally.

Where will this lead? Will the boom continue or will there be a bust? Will now-eager consumers tire of the craze and move on to whatever is next? Who knows. But whatever happens, I’m banking on the next five years being just as exciting as the last.

*Correction: An earlier version incorrectly stated Mullen was hired in 2011 by the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild. Mullen was hired in 2007.

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About Michael Agnew, A Perfect Pint

Michael has a passion for beer. He is Minnesota's first Certified Cicerone (think sommelier for beer) with the Cicerone Certification Program, and a National Beer Judge with the Beer Judge Certification Program. In addition, Michael is himself an award-winning brewer. He writes a monthly column on beer for the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

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