According to a recent study, homebrewers can predict the future.
OK, maybe your homebrewing buddy isn’t a mystic seer, but a high number of homebrewers in a state might foretell a surge in new breweries, says Brewers Association chief economist Dr. Bart Watson.
After looking at the 6,906 entries from the 2011 National Homebrew Competition (NHC), Watson reports that his “results show a strong relationship between the number of entries by state in 2011 (per million 21-plus adults) and the number of breweries that opened between 2011 and December 2015 (again shown per 21-plus adults).”
This makes sense to Watson.
“I don’t think it’s that surprising,” Watson says. “There have always been states where, clearly, beer culture is a little bit stronger, for lack of a better term. It’s hard to measure that, but certainly the number of homebrewers—committed homebrewers—is probably a good way to look at it.”
In 2011, Minnesota had 18.2 NHC entries per million 21-plus adults, and a net brewery increase of 29.8 per one million 21-plus adults. Minnesota produced the third-most NHC entries per capita (trailing only Wyoming and Colorado) and was also third in per capita brewery increase in the four years since.
“It makes a lot of sense that places where you have strong homebrewing communities, there’d be more opportunities for small independent brewers,” he continues. This is certainly the case in Minnesota. The state had over 100 breweries at the end of 2015, according to the Department of Public Safety’s Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Division. Much of that growth comes from the past five years, particularly following the 2011 “Surly Bill,” which made it legal for breweries to sell pints of their own beer in their taprooms.
As part of his study, Watson also compared beer styles entered in the NHC with the best-selling beer styles sold in the commercial market, using market research data gathered from the IRI Group from 2011 to 2015, which contains sales data from grocery stores and beer shops.
His findings show that homebrewers were creating some of the same beers that became popular between 2011 and 2015.
“I knew homebrewers were a leading community in terms of innovation, but it was surprising that some of the things that we think about in the marketplace now were popping up that early,” Watson says.
The six most popular styles that homebrewers crafted for the 2011 NHC included stout, American ale, IPA, fruit beer/spice/herb/vegetable, Belgian strong ale, and Belgian and French ale. Of the top six styles, market growth was highest for Belgian and French ales (136.8 percent between 2011–2015) and IPAs (96.9 percent increase in that same time period). Although, contrary to the trend, American ales and Belgian strong ales saw a decrease by 35 and 31.7 percent, respectively.
Brett Glenna, president of the Minnesota Home Brewers Association for the past two years, says the Twin Cities homebrewing scene slightly aligns with the data.
“If I were to give an educated guess on [popular] beer styles, I would say IPAs and stouts—imperial stout being very popular,” Glenna said via e-mail. He bases this data on beers club members routinely enter in competitions and bring to their meetings.
Brett Vermilyea, a three-year member of RAZE homebrewing club in Rochester and assistant brewer at LTS Brewing Co., echoes Glenna’s response. “IPAs still rule the roost in Rochester by a long shot,” Vermilyea says. “After that, I’d say stouts. Beers I see people brewing more and more of are Belgians—especially saisons and quads—and sours.”
Jeff Merriman, an American Brewers Guild-educated store manager at Northern Brewer, found some truth to the data when it comes to IPAs and stouts. “2015 sales nationwide at Northern Brewer do show a similar trend to what is being reported by the Brewers Association, but are more in favor of IPAs than stouts,” he says. Of the brew shop’s top 25 recipes sold over the course of 2015, nine were IPAs or pale ales (mostly IPAs), and five were stouts or porters.
Watson is “always looking for ways to analyze the U.S. beer market,” so he’ll probably look into beer trends again. But next time he wants to make it a little more in-depth.
“The style categories are still pretty broad,” Watson says. “Knowing that someone entered an IPA doesn’t tell you anything about if it’s a double IPA, or a session IPA, or a black IPA. There are a lot of things that can be IPA.
“And that’s the same with market data,” he continues. “If I were to do it again I might try to be more specific.”
In the meantime, find out how many of your roommates, friends, and family members are brewing and what kind of beer they’re making. It just might tell you something about the future of brewing in The Land of 10,000 Lakes.