Brewers association

Demographic change among craft drinkers

What is the demographic of craft enthusiasts and how has it changed in recent years? As craft beer has grown, the total population of craft drinkers has certainly grown as well, but has it diversified? How? ‘Or’ What? Where?

Before we dive into these questions, remember that how we define our field of inquiry changes the answers we get. Is a craft drinker someone who drinks craft a few times a year? Someone who drinks it every week? There is no one right answer. Likewise, while I’m going to speak in terms of national demographics, state or local demographics are going to vary a lot, both based on the demographics of the people in those places and the particular craft culture that has emerged locally. I will highlight some of these variations as we delve deeper into the analysis, but I want to make it clear from the outset that there is no one correct lens to look at these issues. Finally, whenever working with demographics, especially race/ethnicity, it’s worth remembering that many of the categories we use are constructs – perhaps useful – but aside from age, Demographic categories are not always clear and often rely on self-identification data.

Overall demographics of craft drinkers

Let’s start very broadly. If we use “at least several times a year” as the norm, around 40% of the population aged 21 and over are now craft drinkers (source: Nielsen – Harris on Demand). This has increased by about one to two percentage points per year. The U.S. population 21 and older has grown by about 2.5 million adults of legal drinking age in recent years, which means crafts are seeing a slightly larger increase than that each year (since the category receives about 40% of these new 2.5 million + 1 -2% more out of the total of ~240 million drinkers). This probably averages out to about 4-5 million new craft drinkers per year using a “several times a year” definition of drinker.

Percentage of craft beer drinkers (several times a year or more often) among Pop 21+
2015 2016 2017 2018
Source: Percentages are based on multiple waves of data from online surveys conducted by The Harris Poll between 2015 and 2018
35% 37% 38% 40%

If we look at more frequent craft consumption, it’s no surprise that the numbers drop. Scarborough (another division of Nielsen) estimated that in 2017, 7.3% of adults aged 21 and over had been craft drinkers in the past month. This represents approximately 17.5 million people in the craft core.

Gender and Demographics of Craft Drinkers

Next, let’s look at gender. In a broad sense, “at least several times a year”, craft drinkers are 31.5% women and 68.5% men in 2018 (source: Nielsen Harris on Demand). That’s about the same as monthly, where Scarborough found 31.1% women and 68.9% men. The main positive of these numbers is that they are improving. In 2015, the same Harris poll found that “several times a year” craft drinkers were 29.1% female and 70.9% male. This represents a 2% shift towards women, over a three-year period where total craftsmanship increased by around 5% in the country. When you add it all up, it suggests that from 2015 to 2018, the craft added around 14.7 million drinkers, of which just under half (~6.6 million) were women. If this data is correct, crafting now includes males and females in the category roughly at their percentage in the population. It’s not quite 50/50, and it will take decades of the same pattern to get closer to parity, but it’s a start.

Want to check this calculation?

In 2015, there were 234,380,464 adults aged 21 and over (Census Bureau) and 35% drank craft beer (Nielsen – Harris on Demand). That’s 0.35*234,380,464 = 82,033,162 craft drinkers. In 2018, we estimate it at 241,876,792 21+ and 40% (Harris), or 96,750,717, or 14,717,554 more than in 2015. For craft drinkers, it went from 0.291 * 82.0 M = 23,871,650 at 0.315 * 96.8 M = 30,476,476, i.e. +6.6M (45% of total) since 2015.

Although I don’t have time series by local market, looking at local market data, it’s pretty clear that much of this change is happening in particular locations. Looking at individual markets, the split of craft drinkers in Portland, Oregon is 52.7% female and 47.3% male (source: Scarborough). The chart below shows the percentage of craft drinkers in Scarborough’s 30-day data that were female by different defined market areas (DMA), with a range of 7.4% to 52.7%.

Craft drinkers by defined market area

Market (# ranked by % of craft drinkers who are women)

[MEMBERS ONLY: Access full data by all 77 markets]

These markets represent 83.4% of the total population of craft drinkers, including 4.44 million women (who drank craft in the last 30 days). There are opportunities to develop the craft market at both ends of the spectrum. If markets where female drinkers are currently less than 1/3 of all craft drinkers were 1/3 female drinkers, that’s over 640,000 more women in those markets drinking craft every 30 days. If the markets that are above 1/3 but below 1/2 have come in at 50-50, that’s 540,000 more every 30 days.

Race/ethnicity and demographics of craft drinkers

Changes in crafting demographics by race/ethnicity have been less positive in recent years. Although the data shows growth in minority craft drinkers in absolute terms, changes over time show less movement in percentage terms. In 2015 Harris Poll data, non-Hispanic whites made up 86.3% of craft drinkers, with 13.7% from other races/ethnicities. In 2018, the percentage of whites fell to 85.5%, with non-whites increasing slightly to 14.5%. Aligning this with data on total population/craft drinkers means that from 2015 to 2018, 81% of new craft drinkers were white and 19% were from minority groups. Given that only 68.7% of the US population 21 and older is non-Hispanic white, that’s not progress. Minority craft drinkers are growing, but only because the total population of craft drinkers is growing, not because craft drinkers are diversifying along racial lines – as we have seen, gender trends are more positive.

The 30-day consumption data shows more of the same. Nielsen Spectra data from August 2014 showed 79.9% white. In the 2017 data, this percentage had not changed. It was 79.9%. There is clearly work to be done to market the amazing beers and brands of small independent brewers to different communities across the United States. your customers and your organization in the future.