Do Home Brewers Have a Crystal Ball?

photo by Mikey Lemoi
photo by Mikey Lemoi

Dr. Bart Watson believes craft beer may largely go as home brew goes. His theory comes from plenty of research on past entries from the American Homebrew Association’s National Homebrew Competition, which is the largest beer competition in the world.

Watson, chief economist for the homebrew associations, asserts in his findings by way of a recent story on the AHA website that the entries, as relates to their quantity, style and state of origin, correlate closely with future changes and trends in the craft beer industry. Who knew?

Well, home brewers did, apparently.

“Homebrewers have long been thought leaders when it comes to beer,” Watson writes, “so it makes sense that they would have their finger on the pulse of what is new, exciting, and upcoming in beer trends.”

Proving it was another matter, so Watson analyzed the entries in the 2011 contest, which numbered just under 7,000, then lined those entries up against market data reflecting the sales of various beer styles by way of scans at retail locations.

The market data, provided by the IRI Group, doesn’t line up perfectly with the 2011 National Homebrew Competition data, but using sub-styles in each competition category much of it lined up with the IRI data. Not quite a crystal ball, but still notable.

For one thing, Watson observed, the more entries a competition category had, the more likely it was that beer style saw market growth over the next four years.

“This positive correlation still holds even if we remove IPA, which saw tremendous market growth between 2011-2015,” Watson writes. “So, homebrewers interests do appear to align with future market movements.”

Some examples:

  • Stouts had the most entries at 566, and sales grew 56.3 percent
  • IPAs had the third most with 462, seeing 96.9 percent market growth
  • Fruit/spice/herb/vegetable beers were fourth in number of entries and saw 78.1 percent growth.
  • Belgian and French ales had 394 entries and grew the most at 136.8 percent.

Going against those trends were American ales, which were second in entries but saw negative market results at -35 percent in sales, while Belgian strong ales came in with 404 entries and saw negative market movement of -31.7 percent.

The data, he writes, also shows a strong correlation between the number of entries by state in 2011 and the number of breweries that opened between 2011 and 2015. Colorado, for example, showed 25.9 NHC entries per 1 million adults aged 21 and over, with a high net brewery increase of 38.7 percent per 1 million adults over 21. Similar results were found in Wyoming, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Nebraska, and Oregon.

Watson concludes that home brewers are more likely to understand what beer drinkers are interested in and what may be coming, and also where there are a high number of home brewers there are likely to also be opportunities for new breweries (which makes sense in any case).

“Although the results aren’t perfect, there is some strong evidence that homebrewers (or, at least, NHC participants) are in fact trendsetters,” Watson writes.