Beer copywriters need to understand why people drink craft beer, not how it is made. Consumer motivations are more important than the mechanics of beer-making.
There are two types of craft beer writers: beer journalists and beer copywriters.
Beer journalists require extensive knowledge of craft beers and the craft beer industry. The North American Guild of Beer Writers (NAGBW.org) lists 158 members, most of them beer reviewers and journalists.
A list of beer copywriters is at the bottom of this article.
According to the Beer Institute, consumer preference for beer over other alcoholic beverages dropped to 49.7% in 2016 from 60.8% in the mid-1990s. Mainstream beers have been hardest hit, but they still account for 70% of all beer consumed in the U.S. Increased craft beer sales haven't come close to making up for the declining sales of mainstream beer.
Although millennials are driving craft beer production and consumption, they are also choosing wine and spirits over beer.
All craft beer drinkers say their reasons for choosing non-commercial beer are:
Millennial consumptions of craft beer falls fall within a broader context. Angela Woo of Alter Agents, a market research consultancy, summed up millennial buying behaviors in a 2018 Forbes article.
When brewers focus on taste, they miss the real motives that drive craft beer drinkers. To understand the reasons millennials consume craft beer, we can look at two related phenomena: third-wave coffee and craft spirits.
Third-wave coffee shares many characteristics with craft beer. It began as a reaction against commercial coffee like Folgers and the over-roasted coffee marketed by Starbucks. Like craft beer, third-wave coffee consumption is driven by millennials who enjoy being in the know, experimenting with coffee flights, and displaying one-upmanship about coffee knowledge.
In 2013, MediaPost noticed the rise in small-batch bourbons, whiskeys, and single malt Scotches. This rise could be traced back to millennials who were choosing craft spirits over big distributors based on four attitudes:
An extensive 2013 study found there are two types of craft beer consumers: experienced and beginners. Experienced craft beer drinkers can be further segmented into the following groups:
Millennials want a beer that is hip, exclusive and reflects their own values including social responsibility. They choose beers without loyalty in order to have new experiences. When a brand becomes too mainstream, it is no longer hip.
All craft beers claim taste and quality. Although great beer taste alone isn't enough to sell your brand, shitty taste is enough to kill it.
You'll only succeed in the long term if the beer is up to snuff.Jason Notte, Crash Course in Beer Marketing
Millennials have their own ways of expressing themselves. Craft beer is one of them. As Olivia LedBetter points out in Barkley, drinking brands perceived as authentic "helps millennials express their own individuality."
Craft beer drinkers believe drinking craft beer is hip, adventurous and different. Because of this belief, most craft beer drinkers describe themselves as being educated, independent, open-minded and willing to try new things.Craft Beer and Consumer Behavior
This motivation isn't new. Journalist Lew Bryson describes similar feelings he had when switching to microbrews in the 1990s.
But mostly I wanted to be different, special, like many of us do. I wanted to like things that others didn’t know about, wanted people to come to my home and see things that weren’t like every other house. There was the camaraderie of being part of the Beer Tribe, an in-the-know clan that at that time was truly small....Therefore, examining myself, I drank non-mainstream beer because it was different; because it was local or political; because it made me part of a special group; and because I liked it.Lew Bryson, All About Beer Magazine
According to a study of craft beer buyer behaviors, craft beer is most often consumed in a social setting, such as watching sports with friends. eating out, or at a party. It is part of belonging to the group. Knowledgeable enthusiasts gain bragging rights. One survey respondent said, "Peer pressure and how you want to be perceived in social settings are big influences."
The "quirkiness" of craft beer tastes also appeals to younger demographics who see themselves as challenging the status quo. Price and recommendations from peers also influence brand preference.
Students at Western Washington University did a comprehensive study in 2017 that examined the consumer behaviors of craft beer drinkers. They found that social connections are an important motivator in craft beer purchases.
Craft drinkers expect better quality, but quality is not a brand differentiator. Differentiators include the brand story and location of brewery, level of social responsibility, unique events and experiences, and sense of community forged in person and digitally.
Most craft drinkers cite taste and quality as important reasons for preferring craft beer over commercial beer. This dovetails with the reason craft breweries exist – to create better beers – and how most crafts are marketed.
[Mass] beer is marketed, on television and in print, by making you think you’ll be cool or get the girl with their product. Craft beer is marketed, mostly not on television, on its merits as a beer, with emphasis on flavor and the ingredients that went into making the product.The Beer Snob
Most independent, small breweries rely on brewery events, local partnerships, and user generated social media to market their beer.
Craft beers originally positioned themselves against mass beer as "better beer." But it is extremely difficult for craft beers to differentiate themselves from each other. Brewers attempt to differentiate themselves based on product attributes such as quality and style. This approach does not resonate with most craft drinkers.
Your brand story is expressed in your design and copywriting. Your brand story is the mythology you want prospects and customers to believe about your brand. It has to represent your values and vision as a company.
Craft beer consumers are brand promiscuous because they enjoy the adventure of experiencing many new beers.
Starbucks perfected the coffeehouse as a third-place experience. Millennials are finding the same social outlet at brewery and brewpub events such as tastings.
Connections can be made face-to-face or digitally. Millennials enjoy interactive digital connections and apps that improve their beer experience.
A brewer's brand story must be unique. It must express values that a millennial wants to be identified with. This means being having a commitment to the social good and giving back to the community.
According to Nielsen Information, information about where a beer was produced mattered to consumers, but heritage and brewing claims did not. Likewise, illustrations of hops on labels did not register positively with consumers. New Giarus, which sells only in Wisconsin, has become an outstanding success based on its positioning as "the state beer.
According to a 2018 study by the Brewers Association. consumers associate "locally made by an independent brewery" with "quality, freshness and taste." Craft drinkers also want to support local small businesses.
Of necessity, most craft brewers began as small, independently owned operations that depended on the local community for survival.
Buyouts by macro breweries have created murky waters for the craft beer industry. In response, the Brewers Association released a label in 2017 to make it easier for consumers to identify beers produced by "small, independent brewers." The label signifies that craft brewers have "turned the industry on its head" by creating new beer styles. The label has been adopted by more than half of U.S. craft breweries – but according to a recent study, the label has meaning only for consumers who know a lot about craft beer. The average craft drinker does not care about independent craft certification.
Every brand seems to claim that passion for producing a quality product and for providing good experiences for its consumers is a key motivational factor that drives the employees who run the craft breweries....it is usually a reason for starting the brewery.Craft Beer and Consumer Behavior
Humor is rarely used as a differentiator, but some brands weave humor into their personas to attract and retain customers. Humor resonates most with Loyalists and may be lost on Enthusiasts and Explorers.
Limited availability justifies premium pricing. Premium pricing contributes to a perception of quality.
All craft beers claim higher quality ingredients, with many using organic ingredients. Although quality separates craft beer from macro beer, it does not provide a brand advantage.
Just over a decade ago, craft beer was referred to as microbrews. The term implied that "better beer was specifically the result of small batches rather than big ones; a useful tactic at the time for positioning the better beer market against the macro giants such as Anheuser-Busch."
Batch size resonates with Enthusiasts, who immerse themselves in acquiring craft beer knowledge. Explorers and Loyalists are indifferent to this differentiator.
Typically, brewery recipes are secret. However, many beer brand stories focus on the heritage/legacy of a beer recipe being passed down through generations. This does not resonate with craft drinkers.
Beer style refers to the type of beer – IPA, double IPA, stout, porter, etc. Many breweries attempt to differentiate themselves based on style, stating they have the best style or a unique variation of a style.
No defining style
There is no such thing as a specific craft beer taste. The Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade group for craft beer producers, says innovation is the hallmark of craft beer. Craft beer brewers either give new twists to historic beers or develop styles without a precedent.
Traditionalists see the kind of experimentation craft brewers are known for as an affront to beer making. Traditional beers have four ingredients: water, malt, yeast, hops. Heavy hops are seen as a coverup for mistakes, not a virtue, and add-ins like vanilla and coffee have no place in traditional beer making.
Some of these complex stouts and porters and stock ales, they throw everything in them but the kitchen sink....Forty years ago, I did not see this coming. Bitterness was a bad word, especially among female beer drinkers.Bill Moeller, master brewer
Shift to lagers
Craft beer began as a rebellion against the flavorless yellow lagers produced by big commercial breweries. By 2016, consumption of bolder craft beers had dropped; at the same time, craft lagers showed double-digit growth.
Awards resonate with Enthusiasts and Explorers – the majority of craft beer drinkers. Beer is relatively cheap and consumers make fast decisions when buying craft beer. Awards are one way to assist in the decision process.
Overall, 71% of craft beer drinkers say they like to try beers with bold or interesting packaging. Package design has a stronger influence on women than men. And packaging design is more important than the copywriting.
A 2016 study by the Glass Packaging Institute found that beer drinkers think glass bottles provide the freshest taste. They also perceive it as a sign of quality, which goes back to the days when imported and premium beers were in bottles. Brewers prefer cans. Cans keep light out better than bottles, are well-sealed, and now have BPA-free interiors. They are also easier to ship and stack. As more brewers use cans instead of bottles, consumer acceptance of cans will improve.
An eye-tracking study by Clemson University for Craft Brewing Business found that metallic film labels caught buyers' attention more than other materials – but clear labels won the greatest fixation duration. There is a strong correlation between fixation duration and purchase.The study, done with Avery Paper, examined the ways in which labels influence purchase behavior and perceptions of beer quality.
Among the West Coast beer packages, the study found that consumers engaged most with illustrations and logos, and less so with package copy. In terms of equity differentiation, the beers that were found to appear distinct did not feature hops imagery. Among the East Coast beers, consumers tended to notice and engage with unique brand logos and unusual package carrier graphics, label and bottle colors.Convenience Store News
GutCheck is a market research consultancy that can help craft brewers weed out guesswork. Here is a study on beer labels done for Alpine Dog.
The persona of the craft beer drinker is a 35 year old, educated and affluent white male who lives in the suburbs and is either single or married without children.
Around 40% of the drinking-age population consumes craft beer at least several times a year, but only 7.3% had a craft beer in the last month.
Craft beer is often thought of as a hipster phenomenon. According to the Brewers Association, an industry trade group, 57% of weekly craft beer drinkers are millennials, 24% are Gen Xers and 17% are Boomers.
21-24 year olds 38% once a week
35-34 year olds 38% once a week
35-54 year olds 43% once a week
55-64 year olds 69% once a month
65+ year olds 64% once a month
For years, craft beer was a male dominated industry rife with sexism. In 2017, the Beer Association issued an edict to its members that heavily discouraged the use of sexist beer labels and misogynistic beer names like Leg Spreader.
Today, weekly consumers of craft beer skew 29.1% female and 68.1% male – but new craft drinkers are coming aboard at nearly equal rates. Currently, women consume 25% of craft beer production and 39% of the world's overall beer production.
Although craft beer is attracting more young women and a greater diversity of drinkers, consumption still skews toward white male millennials with high socio-economic status.Bart Watson, Brewers Association
Non-Hispanic whites account for 86.3% of craft drinkers. Only 13.7% of craft beer fans belong to minorities. Some data suggest that Hispanics are beginning to embrace craft beer consumption.
According to Nielsen, a weekly craft drinker is typically male, in his thirties, and makes between $75,000 and $99,000 annually.
Bottom line: Brewing claims are less interesting to the average craft beer drinker than stories about place and unique values that millennials want to be identified with.The brand story is most influential when it is expressed visually in packaging, but copywriting on the packaging/website can amplify this story.
If you need a beer copywriter, you can hire a solo freelancer or work with a company.
If you have a nice budget, here are some advertising and public relations firms that work with craft brewers:
If you just need a writer, a Google search turned up a few beer copywriters:
Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) became the hipster beer of choice in 2006 but began to lose its cool factor in 2014. Several elements contributed to this.
First, a highly publicized lawsuit between Pabst Brewery Co. and Miller-Coors in 2014 underscored that Pabst did not make its own beer. Millennials will not tolerate inauthenticity.
Second, hipsters famously dislike being called hipsters. The term is pejorative to a group that prides itself on its individuality. So, any product which is an overt badge of hipsterism is, sooner or later, going to be jettisoned by them.
What were once funny characterizations have become the most obnoxious clichés. Undoubtedly, the marks of a hipster include vintage flannel, thick-framed glasses, fixed-gear bicycles, Pabst Blue Ribbon, American Spirit/Parliament cigarettes, and of course porno mustaches.Millennial Magazine, Jan. 6, 2016
Third, millennials grew older, more affluent, and switched to beers that could play better into their desire for cultural one-upmanship.
Above all, hipsters wanted to be recognized for being different – to diverge from the mainstream and carve a cultural niche all for themselves.Matt Granfield, Hipster Mattic
PRB has always been a cheap, watery, no-nonsense beer. There is nothing fancy about it. It is the beer your drink when you mow the lawn, paint the kitchen cabinets, clean out the garage, or cook burgers on the grill.
Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) became the hipster beer of choice around 2006. By 2010, it was outselling both Coors and Sam Adams.
Studies published in the Journal of Consumer Research dissected why hipsters elevated PBR from an iconic blue collar beer to a cool brand.
In 2015, Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) began to show slowing sales. By 2018, millennial lifestyle websites pronounced Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) flat.
Millennials no longer want to drink a cheap, shitty beer with blue collar undertones. They have shifted to craft beers, microbrews, heritage beers, local beers, sour beers and high-gravity beers. All of these beers have bragging rights – stories – that are highly personal and sincere.
Anyone drinking PBR now is either some kind of weird stubborn holdover or just hasn’t gotten the memo.Tracy Moore, MEL
Hipsters drink beers they can talk about. The back story of PBR no longer has the same genuinely retro appeal it did. It is under new ownership by a Russia-connected partnership.
MillerCoors has produced Pabst Brewing Co. beers in 1999 but this fact blew up in the media in 2018 when MillerCoors and Pabst wound up in court in over MillerCoors' threats to stop production. Although the suit was settled, with an agreement, it became in-your-face knowledge that Pabst does not brew its beers.... and that a PBR is basically interchangeable with a Miller Light.
But this does not mean people are really gravitating to craft beers based on taste. More than anything, coolness matters. Some of the most successful craft breweries are releasing light ales in recognition of this, instead of heavier and more hoppy beers typical of the craft genre.
For a lot of folks who are drinking it, they're not craft beer fans looking for a specific style. The fact it's a craft beer brand is less important than the fact it's a cool brand.Jamie Smith, Director of Marketing for Firestone Walker
Pabst Brewing Company boasts that it is the largest American-owned brewery and says it "takes pride in brewing beers that have become iconic, cherished American brands. Established in 1844, Pabst Brewing Company has over 30 beers in its portfolio, including Old Milwaukee, Colt 45, Olympia, Tsingtao, Lone Star, Schlitz, Ranier, Stroh's, and Blatz.
Pabst Brewing Company was bought in 2014 by the Russian-born beer entrepreneur Eugene Kashper in partnership with TSG Consumer Partners, a San Francisco-based equity firm. However, the initial media release said the company was bought by Oasis Beverages, a Russian beer enterprise founded by Kashper.
Kashper emigrated to the U.S. from Leningrad when he was six years old and became an American citizen within a few years. After college, he worked in Moscow for Ernst & Young (EY). He left EY in 1994 to start his beer career with the Stroh Brewery Company of Detroit. In 2008, he co-founded Cyprus-based Oasis Beverages, which has quickly become the largest independent brewer in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan.
Although Kashper is Russian-American, his financial ties are to Russia more than the U.S. It hurts the image of an all-American beer brand.
The best-selling beers in America didn't achieve their success based on taste. In 2015, the Daily Meal ran a blind taste test of the top-selling beers and the biggest brands were universally panned. Busch Light was called "an offense to beer everywhere." Natural Light was called a "football tailgate beer." Tasters called the aroma of Corona Extra "skunky." Miller Light one a universal "This tastes like nothing." Only Michelob and Heineken ranked well in the taste test - yet they are at the bottom for sales.
Clearly, the American majority prefers watery, tasteless beer. The Atlantic Monthly, the Washington Post, Patch. and Esquire have all explored the reasons for the American preference for bland beer. Ranjut Dighe, a professor of economics at State University of New York at Oswego, wrote a research paper on the subject. In the late 1800s, factory workers paid more for weak beer so they could have it with lunch at a tavern during the workday and not get drunk. When Prohibition closes 1,568 breweries, American drinkers forgot all about stout, powerful beers. The notion of beer as a "beverage of moderation" persists until today – and is largely responsible for the popularity of bland beers.
There's no point to saving PBR unless Pabst Brewing Company can find a way to make its products after its contract with MillerCoors ends. Ideally, Pabst Brewing Company would buy a shuttered brewery and begin its own production. Then it would actually have a product to attach its label to, honestly.
Besides that, PBR and its brother brands need a strong creative agency. An agency capable of repeating the success of Budweiser's Whassup frogs circa 1999 to 2002.... or any of the following funny (and frequently sexist) commercials.
I've scoured Google to find examples of great writing for beer brands. Small brands are sometimes more gutsy than bigger ones. Blue Point Brewing doesn't have a lot of copy on its website, but the copy it does have is kickass wonderful.
At Blue Point, we brew beer that stands up to New York's standards. We know it’s good, they know it’s good, and if someone disagrees, fuck ‘em. We first and foremost brew beer that we want to drink. If there’s some leftover, we’ll sell it.Blue Point Brewing
The copy below from Goose Island is interesting because it balances two different voices. Read along and the copy is good ("big, bracing, piney hop flavors") but not unexpected. The ending, though, snaps like a cowboy's lariat. Perfect, because the duality of the writing mirrors the duality of the beer itself, with its combination of piney woods and the tropics.
It’s 7%, but totally crushable — it’s not quite like any other IPA you’ve had. Big, bracing, piney hop flavors meet a tropical bouquet of Nugget, Citra, and Mosaic hops. There’s a balanced bitterness that blends seamlessly into the light to medium body. Sip it or rip it. We're not your mom.Goose Island (Next Coast IPA)
Dogfish Head Brewery's copy is full of smart copywriting. Who can resist a sentence like, "It’s hard being the sequel, unless you wrote the original story." But I have singled out Dogfish Head's informative block on its brewing process. Usually, informative copy is flat and dry. This copy makes sense and does a great job of quietly selling the product.
Traditionally brewers make just two hop additions – one big dose early in the boil for flavor & another bunch at the end for aroma. But thanks to our invention of continual hopping – a process of adding hops throughout the entire boil – our continually hopped 60 Minute delivers an outrageously hoppy IPA that isn’t crushingly bitter.Dogfish Head
Brooklyn Brewery has grown from a home-based beer operation to a well-established millennial favorite. The copy on its website is much better than average. Nothing shocking or truly distinctive, but it is intelligent and finely crafted storytelling. Below is a typical example,
Two hours later, Milton [Glaser] was persuaded to join in with the bold plan set forth by Steve and Tom. He first insisted on changing the name to Brooklyn Brewery, saying: “You’ve got Brooklyn here, who needs an eagle!” He even agreed to waive his usual fees in exchange for an equity stake in the company and a supply of fresh beer. Steve and Tom had no problem with that; after all, they had no money.Brooklyn Brewery
Speaking of Brooklyn Beer, they do an amazing job of maintaining their brand in their label designs. Each label expresses the uniqueness of the specific brew, but clearly is part of a brand family.
Monday Night Brewing's copywriting drips sincerity but lacks authenticity. Who brags "We are humble folks..."? If you have humility, it should come across in your tone. But, Monday Night does tackle a difficult issue and deserves chops for it.
We believe that the craft brewing industry is particularly lacking in diversity.We work in an industry that skews overwhelmingly white male, and that is something that we need to acknowledge and own in order to move towards a place of more diversity and inclusionMonday Night Brewing
Many startup brewers write their own marketing copy. After all, they know their product best. They understand the vision. They have the passion. The only problem, really, is they lack the writing skills. It's not just nailing the right words. It's a matter of telling the right story.
Craft beer is, by and large, a social story. Meaning, it's not about quenching your thirst or popping tops on the sofa. It's about sharing an experience in a public venue. This makes craft beer a uniquely millennial phenomenon that combines idealism with a sense of belonging.
Founders Brewing Company, one of the largest craft beer producers, said on its website in 2014, “We don’t brew beer for the masses. Instead, our beers are crafted for a chosen few, a small cadre of renegades and rebels who enjoy a beer that pushes the limits of what is commonly accepted as taste. In short, we make beer for people like us.”
That sentiment remains in the tagline, "Brewed for Us." But otherwise, the message has been replaced by a much slicker one about chasing one's dreams. This is another millennial thread that drives all sorts of gig economy jobs, including writing.
After some initial challenges due to making well-balanced but unremarkable beers, we were on the verge of bankruptcy.
It was at this point that we decided to brew the kind of beer that got us excited about brewing in the first place: complex, in-your-face ales, with huge aromatics, big body and tons of flavor.Founders Brewing Co.h
Second Self Beer Company follows the same train of thought.
Second Self is about fulfilling a dream. We are lucky enough to do that daily in our Upper Westside Atlanta brewery. We all have our passion projects or side hustles that we do because we love it. We hope you embrace YOUR Second Self and live YOUR dream.Second Self Brewing
Terrapin Beer Co. also began with a dream, specifically a daydream. (Yawn.) The copy is flat, giving no indication that the beers are anything special.
The two recognized that they had something to contribute to the brewing industry in the southeast, and began crafting recipesTerrapin Beer Co
Hop Butcher for the World takes its name from a Carl Sandburg poem. The brewery's About page is the most poetic and literary of the brewery websites. It is unique because it does not treat the reader like a dumb fuck. Instead, it appeals to the erudite self most of us secretly believe we have.
In his poem "Chicago," Carl Sandburg first refers to this great city (Chicago) as "Hog Butcher For the World." And while the literal meaning behind that moniker has faded since the mid-twentieth century closing of the Union Stock Yards, it anchors and inspires our ethos in three meaningful ways: For starters, we love hops. The variety of ways they can be used in brewing and the range of flavors and aromas that they bring to beer are vast and areas in which we enjoy experimenting heavily. No surprise then that the word "hop" appears in our name and that the majority of our recipes begin with a specific variety or intuitive blend of hops in mind.Hop Butcher for the World
Creature Comforts ties the experimental aspects of craft beer to curiosity. In turn, it links curiosity to the adventurousness of artists, explorers, and thinkers. It is a distinctly millennial-focused message, because that age bracket is all about new experiences and creativity.
CREATURE COMFORTS IS DEDICATED TO BETTER BEING THROUGH BEING CURIOUS. FROM OUR SCIENTIFIC BREWING PROCESS TO OUR WIDE-AWAKE CREATIVE IMPULSE TO OUR SMALL TOWN TENACITY, CREATURE COMFORTS IS DRIVEN BY THE PROMISE THAT A CURIOUS MIND LEADS TO BETTER LIVING. WE TAKE INSPIRATION FROM THOSE WHO CRAVE CURIOSITY AND SHARE ITS REWARD. THE THINKERS, THE INVENTORS, THE ARTISTS, THE EXPLORERS.Creature Comforts
Finally, these beer product descriptions from Big Axe Brewing are totally whacky self-contained stories. And they're totally engaging. You won't find anything like them on competitor products.
The Splinter cat will hurl itself from tree to tree, smashing the trunks into pieces, revealing the tasty morsels inside.
Medium body with a balanced malt presence from a high grade pale malt. slight sweetness to accommodate the expected IPA bitterness. Notes of citrus and pine finish it
When the fish rise to the surface of the water, Bildad quickly springs past and smacks the unsuspecting prey with its paddle-like tail.
Easy drinking blonde ale. Low bitterness and light in body. Slight notes of citrus and lemon from a small late hop addition.Big Axe Brewing