Craft beer has gone from a niche offering to being practically a necessity, with many consumers expecting to see craft brews on tap at even the most basic sports bars and small town watering holes. Sales of craft beer grew 18% by volume and 20% by dollars last year, Brewers Association Staff Economist Bart Watson said during a panel at the International Wine, Spirits and Beer event at the National Restaurant Association show last month. On-premise sales of craft beer continue to grow, and many markets are nearing what Watson calls “tap saturation,” with the maximum number of tap handles being occupied by craft beers.

Offering craft beers is a great way to bring in more business, but it’s important to follow a few key rules to make sure your craft beer program is truly adding value for your customers. Watson led a panel discussion with a representative from a large brewing company, a small craft brewer and an editor from a beer magazine to get their top tips on how restaurants can make the most of their craft beer programs. (read more…)

A majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a craft brewery and much of the small-batch craft beer brewed in the U.S. is still consumed fairly near the place it was produced, but in recent years some craft brewers have been expanding their reach by exporting. Craft beer export volumes grew by 49% last year, to 282,526 barrels worth about $73 million, according to the Brewers Association, which launched an Export Development Program in 2004 that’s funded with annual grants from the Agriculture Department’s Market Access Program.

The rise in exports makes sense as brewers continue to grow and expand their followings, said Brewers Association Craft Beer Program Director Julia Herz. Small brewers now have a world-class reputation for their beer, she said, and many of those brewers have shown a growing interest in increasing their distribution to emerging markets.

The number of U.S. craft breweries, including brewpubs, microbreweries and regional craft breweries totaled 2,483 as of June 2013, up from 2,347 in 2012 and 1,970 in 2011, according to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association. (read more…)

Baby boomers are still the biggest spenders when it comes to wine, but millennials are the fastest-growing group of wine drinkers, and their social-savvy ways, adventurous palates and quest for fun are driving shifts in both the kinds of wine being produced and where and how companies, restaurants and retailers are marketing wine to millennials.

Wine accounts for about 20% of alcohol purchased by consumers age 21 to 34, up from 13% a decade ago, according to research compiled by Napa Technology, and the drinking-age members of Gen Y are expanding their horizons when it comes to the kinds of wines they’re willing to try. Unlike their elders, who tend to stick with the familiar varieties and vintages, millennials aren’t afraid to experiment, said Napa Technology spokeswoman Jayne Portnoy.

“They have opened up the marketplace extensively, they’re looking into malbecs and Argentinean varietals and things like that,” she said. (read more…)

Large restaurant brands today are drowning in data but thirsty for meaning. It’s easy for food and beverage directors to feel lost in the vast sea of positive and negative social media reviews about their menus.

To help clarify all this social feedback, newBrandAnalytics (nBA) just released a report highlighting the top beverage trends that are driving guest loyalty. This research shows how restaurants and hotels can use their online feedback, as well as their competitor’s social data, to ride the waves of the latest beverage trends to increase customer loyalty.

 nBA’s experts analyzed 40,000 social media reviews from 100 of the hottest U.S. restaurants, and isolated those mentions that included beverage references. As you’ll see below, we then separated meaningful from non-meaningful insights to identify specific trending beverage flavors that are driving guest loyalty.

So which wines, cocktails, beers and non-alcoholic beverages are sure to bring guests back for more? (read more…)

High-end whiskey, fresh fruit and surprising spices are likely to fill more cocktail glasses this year, as a few trends come together to shape the spirits menu. Belt-tightening consumers cut down on drinking at bars and restaurants last year, and the trend appears to be continuing in the first few months of 2014, according to a recent Technomic report, but there are some exceptions, including craft beers and high-end whiskeys.

Delving deeper, a social media analysis from newBrandAnalytics shows consumers are clamoring for fresh fruity drinks like guava mojitos, mango margaritas and most anything with a hint of ginger. Those flavors, which in the past might have been seasonal, are rising in popularity year-round, possibly because winter-weary patrons want to feel like they’re on vacation, says Marketing Manager Jess Knight.

Martinis are proving to have staying power, while margaritas and mojitos are finding growing legions of fans, but in all three categories the common denominators are fruit and other fresh ingredients, according to the newBrandAnalytics report, which is an analysis of the things people were posting and tweeting last year about 100 of the country’s hottest restaurants. (read more…)