If they aren’t drinking beer, then what are they drinking?

A graph showing changing consumer trends in alcohol choices.
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The remarkable rise of craft distilling and what we can learn from it.

The recent news that one of Seattle’s premier beer bars was shutting down created quite a conversation on the Washington Beer Blog’s Facebook page. In that discussion, some folks blamed hard seltzer for leading consumers away from craft beer. Others blamed ready-to-drink cocktails (RTDs). Those are just two factors impacting the craft beer industry these days. The list of other influences is long. Alcohol consumers have more choices now than ever before. In this story, I discuss how the rise of craft distilling is impacting craft beer. More importantly, I talk about what we can learn from the remarkable and recent growth of the craft distilling industry.

If alcohol consumers in the USA drink less beer, what are they drinking instead? Luckily, there’s a Gallup poll for that. Gallup has been marking this data for decades. Since 2001…

  • Beer slipped from 46% to 35%
  • Wine held steady at around 32%
  • Spirits grew from 18% to 30%.
A graph showing American's alcohol preferences.

The graph above shows a slow, steady increase in spirits. Over the most recent years, the increase has become drastic. What changed? Craft distilleries arrived. In 2022, the number of craft distilleries increased in the U.S. at a rate of better than one per day. There are now about 3,000 in the USA. According to reports, the growth of the global craft spirits market is expected to continue, expanding at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 28.3% from 2022 to 2030. That number is HUGE. Remarkable growth.

Why am I talking about craft spirits on the Washington Beer Blog? Other forces are encroaching on craft beer’s realm, that is true, but we need to learn something from the rise of craft distilling. Experts surmise that, ideologically, craft spirits are a great fit for many millennials. Craft distillers are small. A family-oriented or otherwise relatable story usually defines them. They’re recognized for quality and creativity. Consumers don’t just relate to the brand, they see themselves in it.


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Hey, wait a minute! That’s our story, too!

Over the past two decades, craft beer has become increasingly common. That’s great, but for consumers of a certain age that means craft beer has always existed and there’s nothing special about it. It’s just a type of beer. They don’t know our stories. They are not ideologically drawn to craft beer. Perhaps they don’t see themselves in our brand.

We need to get back to basics. Craft beer needs to start telling our story again. Craft spirits will grow a lot over the coming years. That growth will be fueled by consumer interest in the exact same stuff that, once upon a time, fueled craft beer’s growth.


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Craft distillers’ stories contain the same stuff that makes craft beer a great ideological fit for some of today’s most desirable consumers. Compared to a lot of other alcohol options, it is crafted with care by real people and not large, faceless corporations. In terms of size, every craft brewery in the USA qualifies as a small business as defined by the Small Business Administration. Most craft breweries are tightly connected to their communities. There are many things about craft beer’s story that would appeal to the millennials and younger consumers, but we’ve stopped telling our story.

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I know it’s not all about spirits, and I know there are plenty of other forces driving craft beer numbers down, like the rising popularity of RTD cocktails, hard seltzers, and other options. Still, we should consider this surging interest in craft spirits as a bright spot. If nothing else, it’s a reminder that we need to tell consumers who we are. After all, craft beer is pretty cool.

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