How the Taproom Phenomena is Helping Reinvigorate U.S. Craft Beer Sales

How the Taproom Phenomena is Helping Reinvigorate U.S. Craft Beer Sales

A wind of change is brewing within the U.S. beer market,  where legal-age consumers, especially Millennials (consumers within the age range of 21 – 34), are finding new places to drink. And amid the country’s rising love for craft beer, it should come as no surprise that taprooms and tasting rooms are providing new and creative experiences for craft drinkers to engage with their favorite brews.

According to new data from Nielsen and Nielsen CGA that was shared this week at the Brewbound Live Conference in California, the popularity of experimental drinking venues is on the rise, particularly among younger craft drinkers. In fact, within the past year, 23% of Millennials have visited a brewpub, 13% of Millennials have visited a groceraunt to grab a meal or a drink, and 14% of Millennials have visited a game-based bar.

Despite the appeal of experiential drinking venues among the younger consumers, however, the desire to find new places to drink isn’t exclusive to Millennials.  In fact, 15% of all U.S. consumers of legal drinking age say they have visited a brewpub/taproom in the last three months, with 42% saying they had visited more than they did a year ago. Across the board, many of these new, non-traditional food and drink establishments are appealing to the adventurer in all of us, as they offer an experience rather than just a set of bar stools and array of tables. So where else are consumers opting to drink?

This rising trend of experiential food and drink establishments like brewpubs and taprooms is an important one to note, especially for the craft beer category, which is currently adjusting to a new world of more moderate growth both on- and off-premise channels. Within the U.S., the once red hot craft beer market has cooled down quite a bit. While retail craft beer sales totaled $4.9 billion during the 52 weeks ended Nov. 3, 2018, that represents a decline of 0.2% total in store dollar sales, breaking a four-year annual trend line of growth and marking a stark contrast to the 12.9% sales growth increase the category experienced just three years ago.

While retail craft beer sales are certainly slowing, we are seeing positive signs of sales growth within U.S. on-premise establishments. And in the craft sector, India Pale Ales (IPAs) are leading the pack. According to the latest data from Nielsen CGA, IPAs are among the best-selling beer styles at U.S. bars and restaurants, capturing 24.9% of total share of craft sales. On-premise dollar sales of IPAs are also up 1% in the 52 weeks ended Sept. 8, 2018.

And when we look at regional preference for IPAs, it’s interesting to note, for brewpub visitors in particular, that IPAs are particularly popular in the western and southern states of the U.S. 


According to a recent Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Nielsen, male craft beer drinkers within the U.S. are more engaged with visiting brewpubs and taprooms in their local area than their female counterparts (32% vs. 26%).  And, from a social media perspective, the desire to engage with brewpubs and taprooms stretches to the online world as well, with Millennial craft beer drinkers showing the most engagement with craft breweries on social media (22% vs. 16% average). So what’s the appeal?

Across the board, the ability to taste and try a wide spectrum of beers are key reasons consumers are visiting taprooms and brewpubs across the country. Nielsen CGA On-Premise User Survey (OPUS) data shows that 55% of consumers say they visit brewpubs because “they wanted to sample a variety of offerings.” From a gender perspective, females are slightly driven more by the appeal of variety (58%), vs. males (53%). For beer marketers, this reinforces the point that flights and samples are vital to enhancing the experience of today’s consumers. And while consumers are obviously visiting brewpubs and taprooms to drink beer, it’s worth mentioning that access to knowledgeable staff, live events and pet access are also key drivers. In fact, female craft drinkers enjoy the fact that craft beer, especially at taprooms and brewpubs, can be shared with their families (28% female vs. 18% male).

On the flip side, the biggest reason why people don’t want to visit brewpubs and taprooms is because the food offerings can be limited/inconsistent—an area of opportunity for establishment owners. For Millennial consumers in particular, overcrowding and price are deterrents as well: 24% of Millennials note that brewpubs/taprooms are often overcrowded; 23% say they’re often expensive; and 17% say the experience could be intimidating.

While the opportunities for marketers to engage with drinkers in non-traditional venues is on the rise, marketers should recognize that traditional bars and restaurants can still offer ample engagement opportunities. After all, 50% of craft beer drinkers visit traditional bars/restaurants for reasons related to craft beer, showcasing a unique dedication toward being part of a craft beer community. In fact, female craft beer drinkers say they’re drawn to the general atmosphere and the experience of craft beer more so than their male counterparts (36% vs. 29%). For male craft beer drinkers, it’s all about the perception of drinking something that is higher quality than other alcoholic beverages (33% vs 23%), and with this, they truly enjoy being a craft beer drinker (39% vs. 35%). 

All in all, the craft beer experience is now much more than just the physical act of drinking craft beer. Tasting rooms and brewpubs provide an opportunity for consumers to engage with the culture of craft beer, and right now, there is a golden opportunity to engage with drinkers in a memorable, meaningful and interactive way.


The insights in this article were derived from the following sources:

  • Nielsen Retail Measurement Services Off-Premise Outlets (xAOC + Liq Plus + Conv + Military) 52 weeks ended Nov. 3, 2018
  • Nielsen Retail Measurement Services Off-Premise Outlets (xAOC + Liq Plus + Conv + Military) 52 weeks ended Sept. 8, 2018
  • Harris Poll conducted on behalf of Nielsen and in collaboration with Brewbound (Oct. 24-26, 2018)
  • Nielsen CGA On-Premise User Survey (OPUS) March 2018
  • Nielsen CGA On-Premise User Survey (OPUS) Fall 2018 Edition; with select questions created in collaboration with Brewbound