Meet the new craft-beer drinker

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Part of our experience at last week's Great American Beer Festival was a talk from Bart Watson, an economist with the Boulder-based Brewers Association who ran down what has changed in craft beer over the past decade-and-a-half.

First, as the above image of one of his slides shows, in 2001 craft-beer drinkers were mostly educated white males with disposable income and beards. As any tap room will show, those guys haven't gone anywhere, but now the bottom 60 percent of households in the U.S., by income, consume 40 percent of craft beer. And they're being joined by others in a big way.

"The Millennials are the current generation that’s coming online as beer lovers," says Watson. "They’re the largest consumer generation of all time, larger than the Baby Boomers. So, not surprisingly, you’re talking about a lot of purchasing power here."

And within that group is a powerful segment: women, who consume 15 percent of craft-beer volume.

"Young women age 21 to 34 now over-index on craft beer," says Watson. "That means they’re drinking more craft beer than as a percentage of their population; so, if they’re 20 percent of the population, they’re drinking 25 percent. That’s pretty amazing, and it’s completely different than what we saw 10 years ago."

Like everywhere else in the country, another rising consumer segment comes from the Hispanic population, though Watson didn't produce numbers. 

"There’s plenty of evidence now that the Hispanic population is also starting to embrace craft beer," the economist says. "I think this is going to increase as we see craft brewers locate in places where there is a large Hispanic population, [and] as we see an increasing number of craft brewers building beers that are designed to attract Hispanic consumers."

Lastly, instead of just clustering in places like San Diego and along Colorado's Front Range, as was true a decade ago, microbreweries are now almost everywhere.

"At the end of the 1970s, we were at a point where there were 40 brewing companies and fewer than 100 breweries in the entire country," says Watson. "Now we’re at a point where 75 percent of Americans above [age] 21 live within 10 miles of a brewery."

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