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Premium brews, craft beers and imports help push beer sales up

February 13, 2012|By Tiffany Hsu
  • Beer sales were up 2% in 2011, largely on the strength of premium brews, according to The Beer Institute.
Beer sales were up 2% in 2011, largely on the strength of premium brews, according… (Tony Talbot / AP Photo )

Slow economic recovery or not, Americans kept drinking beer in 2011 -– though much of the 2% sales growth came from high-end premium brews, according to industry lobbying group The Beer Institute.

Beer sales totaled more than $98 billion, with on-premise revenue from vendors such as bars, restaurants, nightclubs and stadiums increasing 3% to more than $55 billion. Off-premise sales at grocery, convenience and liquor stores grew less than 1% to $43 billion.

The booze is sold at about 547,000 establishments in all, according to the institute.

"Beer continues to be the preferred alcohol beverage of Americans," said Joe McClain, president of the institute.

Middle-income buyers remain beer's strongest consumer base. But those drinkers have been heavily hit by the recession and its aftermath, and with less disposable cash, they have picked up fewer six-packs of standard brands such as Budweiser.

Meanwhile, in a trend that’s being mirrored in both the wine and liquor industries, higher-income consumers less affected by the economy are spending their money on better-quality options.

Maybe that’s why the old mainstay brands are trying to reinvent themselves to attract a new audience. Old Milwaukee landed Will Ferrell in a tongue-in-cheek ad that quickly went viral. Anheuser-Busch launched six separate Super Bowl ads last weekend.

Beer makers have focused so much attention recently on making their brews hip that one brewery designed its ads to spoof other companies’ spots. Breckenridge Brewery’s commercials make fun of the beach scenes from Corona ads and the “Most Interesting Man in the World” series from Dos Equis. Huffington Post has a full set of videos.

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