How the Beer Industry Has Changed in the U.S.

Mike Babb at KVCC

Mike Babb explains the equipment available at the Kalsec® Center for Sustainable Brewing Education through Kalamazoo Valley Community College

When Mike Babb first began in the brewing industry almost 45 years ago, there were limited brewers with their own take on the same style of beer. Major technological advances in the industry have led multinational brewers to expand and create several different beer styles, while the popularity of craft beers has craft brewers going back to brewing roots when it comes to the type of beer they are making. We caught up with master brewer, Mike Babb, and had a conversation about trends in the brewing industry and changes that he has seen in beer over the last several decades.

Marketing, Branding and Bottle Labels

Today, walking down a store aisle of beer options is much like walking through an art exhibit at a university.

Craft beer labels have become the ‘wild, wild west’ of labels, with few to no boundaries for artistic expression.

Multinational brewers often rely on established branding, with their labels tending to show a consistent and more professional tone. For many craft brewers the use of extreme graphics and radical design may be just as important as the brewing to help their beer stand out on the shelf. How do the craft beer labels stand out? There are some great examples in Inside the Ever-Changing World of Craft Beer Labels.

The last few years have seen beer marketing rapidly change. While the craft brew industry is more experimental when it comes to labels, there has been an increase in unique marketing strategies for multinationals as well; for example, Bud Light’s Dilly Dilly advertising campaign. For multinationals the marketing strategy is often about differentiating campaigns while keeping a consistent brand. Craft brewers are focused on guerrilla tactics like being eye-catching on the limited shelf space of the store.

Flavors

A concept that the craft brewing industry adopted was the addition of new flavors. Fruity, malty and even sour flavors have expanded tremendously in the craft beer space – to the point where Mike sees that they are reaching a plateau. Different flavors in beer have become so popular that some of the more successful flavors have reached multinationals and even created brewing operations based on flavors, like Small Town Brewery and their ‘Not Your Father’s’ and ‘Not Your Mom’s’ beers.

When it comes to flavors and beer, craft brewers are willing to stretch the concept of what a beer is, and what goes into it.

For example, beers brewed with actual donuts. As a culture of the profession, craft brewers have experimented in brewing to the point of absurd, but have also influenced the change in consumer tastes for beer. Flavors have expanded the market to consumers that would not normally drink traditional beers.

‘Having a Beer’

Craft Brewing Beer ChallengesEven the concept of ‘having a beer’ has changed. It used to mean going to a bar, typically a local place, where the main attraction was not the beer. As younger generations have changed this concept, it is becoming more mainstream to travel longer distances for a local artisan. Today’s Millennials have more trouble with the concept of the ‘big corporate guy’ and want to get to know the process and the brewer. It has become more about the experience than the beer for many younger generations. Millennials Changing the Landscape of the Alcoholic Beverage Industry is a great article about the effect that Millennials are having in the alcoholic beverage industry.

The Future of Brewing

People are becoming more knowledgeable and selective about the beer they consume. This trend is being led by Millennials, who are more open to experiment with different flavors while showing appreciation for their local brewer. For them, a social connection and getting to know where their beer is coming from is increasingly important. When it comes to the job market, with more brands and breweries than ever before there are more jobs developing in sales and marketing.

The industry is slowing down after the ‘beer boom’ over the last several years. This will see consumers become more selective, meaning there will eventually be a consolidation. Many craft brewers will continue to be bought by multinationals as the result of this slow down in opportunities.

Once the industry hits capacity, it will stay more diversified with key players.

There will still be interest and demand for varieties of brew pubs, however, according to Mike. And, he believes the changes that have shifted the industry will persevere.

Who is Mike Babb?

How did Mike Babb become an expert in the brewing industry and why do his insights matter?

Brewing Beginnings

Mike Babb, Instructor at Kalamazoo Valley Community College and retired Kalsec® Hops Fellow.

Mike Babb was born and raised in the shadows of Coors brewery, where both his father and grandfather worked. While earning a bachelors degree in chemical engineering from the Colorado School of Mines, he started working at the brewery and over a 20-year career became the global head brewer for Coors. Mike also studied brewing technology at the Technical University of Munich – Weihenstephan. After Coors, Mike spent some time consulting for small breweries and with a passion for teaching developing brewing training programs throughout the world.

Kalsec® and Brewing Education

After making a trip to Kalsec headquarters in 2003, Mike fell in love with the small feel of the company and took a position in the hops lab, where he went on to manage Kalsec’s advanced hops product line. In January of 2014, Mike was contacted by Kalamazoo Valley Community College (KVCC) to help develop their brewing education program. In addition to financial support, Kalsec contributed pilot brewery equipment, curriculum development and instruction by Mike Babb, as well as evaluation of student beers through the Kalsec professional sensory panel. In 2017, Mike retired from Kalsec and has been teaching as a full-time instructor for the Kalsec Center for Sustainable Brewing at KVCC ever since. The program is one of only 10 programs recognized by the Master Brewers Association of Americas.

With a lifetime of beer industry experience and a pulse on trends through his current role in brewing education, it is safe to say that Mike Babb is truly an expert in the beer industry.

Kalsec is tapping into life’s moments and creating new experiences for brewers to improve consistency, efficiency and reduce beer loss with our Craft Brew Solutions and Advanced Hop Products.

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