Six of the top eight new “craft beer” brands in the United States in 2010 were IPAs of some sort (sometimes “imperial” or “double,” sorry Mr. B), according to Symphony IRI, which tracks beer sales in various channels.
Curiously, although “American-Style India Pale” annually draws more entries than any other category at the Great American Beer Festival, before 2010 no single brand could be found at Walmarts across the country. Now there are three Sierra Nevada Torpedo, New Belgium Ranger IPA and Samuel Adams Latitude 48. Sierra Nevada introduced Torpedo in 2009, the other two were new in 2010 (Latitude for just the last four months and still it was the second best selling new “craft beer,” behind Ranger.)
What does this mean? That IPA is going mainstream, going viral, about to trend on Twitter? Something like that. Plus thousands more people will get the story behind India Pale Ale wrong. (Save yourself the pain just tell them to go buy Amber, Black & Gold and/or Hops and Glory.)
One bit of explanation. Symphony IRI tracks packaged goods through a variety of channels, such as supermarkets, convenience stores and big box stores. The places lots of people buy lots of stuff. IRI doesn’t get data from every single liquor store, including perhaps the one where you buy special beers. They don’t track sales in bars or brewpubs. Places where IPA was already on the radar.
However, when the Brewers Association finishes collecting information from its members and announces “craft beer” sales totals for 2010 they’ll likely reflect what Dan Wandel of IRI told BA members in a conference call on Thursday. He reported that dollars sales of what IRI calls craft beer (pretty much the same definition as the BA) increased 14 percent and case sales 12 percent.
Supermarket sales of Torpedo soared 154 percent in 2010. IRI now lists it as the 11th best selling craft brand (its definition, so no Blue Moon White, which would be No. 1). However that’s classifying seasonals and variety packages as brands. The top-selling six actual beers are Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Samuel Adams Boston Lager, New Belgium Fat Tire, Shiner Bock, Widmer Hefeweizen and Torpedo.
Two more data points: IRI began tracking 53 additional IPA brands in 2010 and IPA’s share of what constitutes the IRI craft universe grew from 9 percent to 11 percent.
Many of these new drinkers may well tweet “I’m drinking such and such IPA at such and such pub” without even knowing that’s short of India Pale Ale (see above). That might be just as well, because they start hearing about beers brewed for a long journey as sea, built to last, full of hops that act as preservatives and they’re going to be tempted to stick a few in their cellar to see how they age.
An interesting idea, but not necessarily a good one for American IPAs. To quote from the Brewers Association style guidelines, “The style is further characterized by fruity, floral and citrus-like American-variety hop character.” And those American hop aromas love ’em or hate ’em are highly volatile. Much more so than the hops that would have flavored nineteenth century India Pale Ales.
After a couple of months many of those floral, citrusy, catty aromas that identify an American IPA will fade from even the most carefully bottled and handled beers. Subject them to a little bit of heat or agitation in transit you know, like on a moving boat and they’ll be plain old pale ales even sooner.
The best time to drink an American IPA and have it taste like the brewer intended was 600 words ago, when you read the headline.