Customers want craft beer. About 40 percent of the of-age population are now craft beer drinkers, according to the Brewers Association. About 5 million new craft drinkers are added to that population each year. But locking down local brews can take extra legwork compared to national brands designed to please all palates.
Coty Bell, brewmaster at Twin Peaks Restaurants in Dallas says local counts for a lot at the brand’s 80-plus restaurants. “Customers tend to order local above all else, then trickle down to the regional and national beer brands,” Bell says.
Andy Husbands, the chef/owner and resident pitmaster of The Smoke Shop, which has three locations in Massachusetts, says this is true to a point. “We have guests who want to branch out and experiment [and] those who are excited to come across a hard-to-find beer on draft. We also have plenty of guests who stand by a national brand."
Age, not income, seems to be the biggest indicator of beer-ordering habits. Millennials and Generation Xers make up the vast majority of craft beer drinkers, while older generations lean heavily toward the tried-and-true macro beers.
In areas saturated with craft beer options, like San Diego or Denver, local beers dominate drink menus by sheer availability. However, in regions like the Midwest, regional and national beer brands still enjoy a stronghold.
The determining factor still isn’t cost. It’s novelty. “Customers are more concerned with the newness and availability of a hot product versus whether it’s a local or national brand,” says Lacey Lauderdale, beverage manager at Walk-On’s Enterprises in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
A key metric many beer connoisseurs look for is freshness, which is majorly affected by distribution availability. “Most of our guests always ask what we have that is new on tap from local breweries before they make their decision on what they are drinking,” says Scott Jones, beer specialist for The Shannon Rose Irish Pub’s two locations in New Jersey. “Our guests tend to associate local breweries with being fresh and innovative. We will get barrels from local breweries that keg their beer and deliver it to us the next day. You can’t get any fresher than that.”
The trade off to macro beer is consistency. People who prefer beers that are available nationwide expect the same experience no matter where they are. Thus, offering a selection of rotating local and seasonal beers alongside national brands is crucial for full-service restaurants like Bennigan’s, says Angela Discher, vice president of marketing for Bennigan’s parent company Legendary Restaurant Brands. “While we see an increase in craft and independent, the domestic and national brands still represent the lion’s share of our beer sales. It’s important to have a healthy balance that drives top-line sales.”
Lacey Lauderdale at Walk-On’s, Scott Jones of The Shannon Rose Irish Pubs, and Angela Discher at Legendary Restaurant Brands share local, regional, and national favorites.
- Breakfast Crunch Granola DIPA by Magnify Brewing Company
“In New Jersey, Magnify Brewing Company has a cult following. They are pushing the limits when it comes to IPAs.” — Jones
- Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA
- Bell’s Two Hearted American Ale
"Local and regional IPAs play an important part in our mix, and we have quite a following for Deschutes Fresh Squeezed IPA as well as Bell’s Two Hearted American Ale." — Discher
- Canebrake Louisiana Wheat Ale by Parish Brewing Company
- Ghost in the Machine Double IPA by Parish Brewing Company
“First and foremost, [breweries we’ll work with] must have a good liquid that has stroke. Secondly, distribution and activation is key. Parish Brewing Company has all of the above, with both on- and off-premises placement in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama at the moment, and will soon expand into Texas and Florida.” — Lauderdale
- Sam Adams Octoberfest
"Sam Adams Octoberfest has an enormous following. Our guests anxiously await the arrival every fall." —Discher
- Stella Artois
"Yuengling and Stella Artois are in most of our restaurants. They have a huge fan base." — Discher