It's official: we are a beer-drinking nation.
But a new study by Mintel, the London-based market research company, says that the way we drink beer is changing. What? Does that mean we will no longer be daintily sipping on pilsner from our homemade beer bongs?!
Not exactly, but close.
Light lagers, like Bud and Bud Light, have historically been the most popular beers in America. But perhaps thanks to the craft beer movement—or the fact that we want to get blackout drunk with fewer impediments, like carbs or the strain of lifting many pesky cans to our lips in rapid succession—a growing number of beer lovers are drinking high-end, but also high-alcohol, beers.
It's all about the ABV or alcohol by volume. Budweiser has an ABV of 5 percent. Bud Light's ABV is 4.2. But last year, nearly one out of every four beers that was newly launched—most of them craft beers—had a 6.5 percent ABV or higher. What's more, 12 percent had an ABV over 8 percent.
Craft beers in general tend to have higher ABVs. With craft beer sales at almost $20 billion in 2014, the industry has seen double-digit growth of late.
Jim Koch, founder of Sam Adams, told CNBC that he thinks Americans are finally growing up as far as beer goes: "Drinkers today have more sophisticated palates than drinkers generally did years ago and they're constantly looking to explore unique, high-quality beers." In fact, Sam Adams produces a beer called Utopia, which has an ABV of 29 percent. Packaged in an elegant ceramic decanter, it can cost up to $200 per bottle.
Indeed, beer with high ABV tends to cost more and have a longer shelf life, so beer brewers have every incentive to exploit this market with endless numbers of artisanally labeled brew.
On the other end of the spectrum, broskis may been there largely for the brewski's taste. People also seem to identify beers that have a higher ABV as being of higher quality. Jonny Forsyth is the Global Drinks Analyst at Mintel (anybody else picturing how fused your skin would be to your couch if that were your job?). He says, "More global beer drinkers now view high ABV as a key quality indicator, inspired by the success of craft beer in the US. The craft beer phenomenon has made high-strength beer . . . trendy and sophisticated."
It's either the taste, or beer drinkers just want to get drunk faster. Wine, after all, typically has an ABV in the low teens. And cask-strength whiskey can hit 60 percent. Obviously, a CamelBak of Natty Ice pales in comparison.
In some countries, however, younger drinkers seem to be avoiding the high-ABV beers. Among French beer drinkers aged 18 to 24, there has recently been a 10 percent drop in those who prefer high-ABV beer. German, Spanish and Polish young people are also going light.
In North America, meanwhile, the trend toward harder beer continues. We're talking about a rise of 319 percent in the number of higher-ABV beers launched between 2011 to 2014. We North Americans may not be looking for healthy beer, but we are looking for beer that will do the trick.
Besides, whoever came up with the term "ugly Americans" obviously never encountered the cosmopolitan ingenuity that is born from a nation absolutely lousy with rakishly in-the-know frat bros. After all, Edward 40-Hands didn't just dream itself up.
So bottoms up, friends. Fewer beers, faster buzz—it's the way of the future.
And just in case you are all hopped up and didn't get enough beer talk to pour into the vomit-stained pint glass that is your mind, why not check out this awesomely shitty 1985 Miller Lite commercial starring the ever-talented raconteur that is Yakov Smirnoff? After all, in America, YouTube videos ironically watch you!