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Crafty approach

Suds are not just for swilling any more. Beer has taken on new cachet, as both a sophisticated sipper and an ideal match with food, and the American brewing scene has never been more vibrant, quality-minded and innovative. There is a wide range of beer styles on the market today, pumped out by over 1,500 U.S. breweries—the largest number in more than a century.

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While the market is still dominated by big brewers Anheuser-Busch/InBev, MillerCoors and Pabst in terms of volume, the craft beer segment is growing rapidly. And too, the big companies are taking their cues from consumer demand for more flavorful brews. A-B’s introduction of American Ale, for example, was quite a departure for the pilsner producer.

Among craft beers, easy drinking wheat beers have proven popular with the American consumer, and the big brewers have picked up on this. The Belgian-accented Blue Moon, introduced in 1995, was a big success for MillerCoors.

Last October, Anheuser-Busch launched Bud Light Golden Wheat nationally; it’s an unfiltered wheat beer brewed with citrus and coriander. This third extension of the Bud Light brand was, says the company, “inspired by consumer interest in more flavorful light beer.” Light beer is far and away the best selling category both domestically and worldwide. MGD 64, launched last summer by MillerCoors, is the latest entrant. With just 64 calories and 2.4g of carbs per 12-ounce bottle, MGD 64 is “lighter than light beer.”

Although away-from-home beer sales will be down about 1.8 percent this year, predicts Technomic, the category will still suffer less than other alcoholic beverages: wine sales will be down 6.7 percent; spirits down 2.1 percent, according to the Chicago-based research firm. And while wine drinkers are trading down in price, that’s not happening as much in the beer category, believes David Henkes, Technomic’s vice president and director of on-premise practice. “Craft beers have a dedicated drinker that isn’t necessarily willing to trade down,” says Henkes. That’s one reason why craft brews are selling better than the category overall.

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