What does innovation look like in an age-old industry?
Ray Daniels // WTF VICE
There is a fair amount of historical evidence that suggests growing grains to produce beer is the reason humans morphed from hunter-gatherers to an agriculture-based society. Yet in the past 20 to 30 years, there’s been an incredible efflorescence. What does innovation look like in an industry that is as old as civilization itself?
Ray Daniels founded the Cicerone program, which essentially certifies beer experts as sommeliers are wine experts. He’s written numerous books on beer’s past and present. When he thinks What the Future, he’s wondering how other new beverages and consumption patterns will change. Over beers in a local tap room, he talked through the trends.
GenPop: What does innovation look like in the beer world?
Ray Daniels: Take anything that you can imagine eating or drinking, and we want to brew beer with it.
GenPop: So we’ll see a proliferation of specialty drinks?
Daniels: Brewers large and small are basically engineering beverages to suit consumers’ tastes and drinking occasions. That fits with general consumer product trends—micro tailoring of products. Everybody wants to feel like they’re special, that they’ve got a product that’s just right for them and their friends.
GenPop: Your survey questions asked about how people get their beer and where they consume it. Any surprises in the data?
Daniels: I feel sorry for two-thirds of the population who don’t have friends bring alcohol to their home. What’s that about? I mean come on, people! If you come to a house, don’t come empty-handed.
GenPop: Other than the lack of manners, did anything else surprise you?
Daniels: Only 86 percent consume beer at home? I would’ve thought everybody who’s a beer drinker drinks at home. The thing that is here that didn’t exist 20 years ago was the brewery tap room, at 18 percent. It wasn’t that long ago that only 10 percent of the population ever had a craft beer, so nearly 20 percent are now saying that they’re drinking at a tap room or a bar. That’s a big change. I think that a lot of this trend toward tap rooms is the local aspect of it.
GenPop: And they get to keep making and testing smaller batches and selling new products to keep customers coming back.
Daniels: Breweries have flagship beers. That’s the stuff they’re going to sell in volume, but they need specialty beers to attract attention. That went from a kind of quaint, solid, marketing practice into something that’s just this hamster wheel of a constantly changing supply of specialty beers.
GenPop: It is hard to keep up sometimes.
Daniels: There are literally people who call themselves beer drinkers that don’t want to drink the same beer twice. For those of us who come from a traditional beer drinking background, that’s pretty stunning.
What the Future is a quarterly deep dive into different aspects of consumer and social thought and behavior. Each edition features exclusive new data from world-leading research firm Ipsos. WTF explores how a single industry or behavior fits into the broader culture now and in the coming decades. Read Previous WTF Issues »
How and where we consume alcohol
Generally speaking, where do you drink beer, wine or spirits?
At a friend's home
None of these
Most still buy their drinks at a liquor or grocery store
When you drink alcohol at home, which of the following ways do you get alcohol to your house? Do you...
Buy alcohol in a store and take it home
Take a refillable container to a brewery/winery/distillery and have it filled or trade in to take home
Have alcohol delivered to your home
Friends bring alcohol to your home
(Source: Ipsos survey conducted between Feb. 25 and 26, 2019 among 797 beer, liquor and wine consumers in the U.S.)
GenPop: What impact is cannabis going to have?
Daniels: Jim Koch from Boston Beer Co. is fond of saying, “I think people have been smoking marijuana for a long time and still drinking beer.” That’s the optimistic point of view. The other point of view is that legalization makes it OK for people to explore marijuana as an alternative to beer. The question is whether it reduces beer consumption. You can eat a 10-milligram edible in 30 seconds. But what are you going to do with your hands and your mouth for the rest of the night? It’s kind of like shots. So maybe marijuana is going to be a substitute for the shot, and the beer is what actually occupies you.