Premium (as well as super premium) macro categories have been decimated by the rise of craft beer. Brands like Michelob, Budweiser and other standards are in virtual free fall. Popular brands aren't doing any better. This has been well-documented in many places. The macros sell a lot of light beer these days and that's about it.
In actual fact, we've arrived at the point where craft beer is itself undergoing stratification...or gentrification, if you will. This transformation is nothing like what happened with the macro brands. It is not driven by advertising. The craft beer industry was not built on TV or in magazines.
Gentrification is an interesting concept, I think. It typically refers to shifts that happen in urban communities when wealthy residents take up residence and displace poorer ones. In a beer terms, gentrification is the growing presence of increasingly expensive products, exclusive events or access and special services.
Not that long ago, you could walk into your favorite bottleshop and be pressed to find more than a few $10 bottles of beer. Try that today. You'll have no trouble finding bottles priced at $10 or more. In fact, you'll find plenty of $20 bottles, largely unheard of a few years ago. This reality is supported by Brewers Association numbers, which show that craft beer dollar growth exceeded volume growth by 2 percent in 2011 and 2012. Any bets on 2013?
Another form of gentrification is VIP access at brewery events and festivals. It's similar to flying: There's first class and coach. Take a look around. Most of our local festivals offer some form of VIP entry, in which the badge holder gets access to exclusive beers, a chance to mingle with brewers, beer and food pairings or something similar. For a price.
Then there are the new beer clubs. There have been beer clubs for many years, but they mainly offered standard issue craft beer. The newer clubs are much more focused on exclusive beers and related items. For a couple hundred bucks, you get yearly access to barrel-aged beers that will never be sold at retail, invitations to special events, brewery schwag and more.
Many will argue the trend is merely a sign of a maturing industry. It's quite nice that craft breweries can now sell their best beer at a wine prices. That never would have been possible in the early years, when one of the biggest hurdles for craft brewers was that their beer cost a bit more than the macros. My how things have changed. Today, frenzied fans will pay seemingly any price for access to special beers.
Of course, some people are being left behind. The price is too high. Beer is historically a drink of the common man. But the growing demand for specialty beers and special access is pushing the market in that direction, squeezing out cheaper products as well as those less able to deal with escalating prices. This situation has existed in wine for years, but is quite new to beer.