April 18, 2019

What does innovation look like in an age-old industry?

Ray Daniels // WTF VICE

There is a fair amount of historical evidence that suggests growing grains to produce beer is the reason humans morphed from hunter-gatherers to an agriculture-based society. Yet in the past 20 to 30 years, there’s been an incredible efflorescence. What does innovation look like in an industry that is as old as civilization itself?

Ray Daniels founded the Cicerone program, which essentially certifies beer experts as sommeliers are wine experts. He’s written numerous books on beer’s past and present. When he thinks What the Future, he’s wondering how other new beverages and consumption patterns will change. Over beers in a local tap room, he talked through the trends.

GenPop: What does innovation look like in the beer world?

Ray Daniels: Take anything that you can imagine eating or drinking, and we want to brew beer with it.

Ray Daniels, Founder and global director, Cicerone Certification Program


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GenPop: So we’ll see a proliferation of specialty drinks?

Daniels: Brewers large and small are basically engineering beverages to suit consumers’ tastes and drinking occasions. That fits with general consumer product trends—micro tailoring of products. Everybody wants to feel like they’re special, that they’ve got a product that’s just right for them and their friends.

GenPop: Your survey questions asked about how people get their beer and where they consume it. Any surprises in the data?

Daniels: I feel sorry for two-thirds of the population who don’t have friends bring alcohol to their home. What’s that about? I mean come on, people! If you come to a house, don’t come empty-handed.

GenPop: Other than the lack of manners, did anything else surprise you?

Daniels: Only 86 percent consume beer at home? I would’ve thought everybody who’s a beer drinker drinks at home. The thing that is here that didn’t exist 20 years ago was the brewery tap room, at 18 percent. It wasn’t that long ago that only 10 percent of the population ever had a craft beer, so nearly 20 percent are now saying that they’re drinking at a tap room or a bar. That’s a big change. I think that a lot of this trend toward tap rooms is the local aspect of it.

GenPop: And they get to keep making and testing smaller batches and selling new products to keep customers coming back.

Daniels: Breweries have flagship beers. That’s the stuff they’re going to sell in volume, but they need specialty beers to attract attention. That went from a kind of quaint, solid, marketing practice into something that’s just this hamster wheel of a constantly changing supply of specialty beers.

GenPop: It is hard to keep up sometimes.

Daniels: There are literally people who call themselves beer drinkers that don’t want to drink the same beer twice. For those of us who come from a traditional beer drinking background, that’s pretty stunning.

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How and where we consume alcohol

Generally speaking, where do you drink beer, wine or spirits?

Bar Bar 42%

Restaurant Restaurant 61%

Brewery/tap room Brewery/tap room 18%

At home At home 86%

At a friend's home At a friend's home 52%

Theater/movie theater Theater/movie theater 6%

Somewhere else Somewhere else 9%

None of these None of these 3%

Most still buy their drinks at a liquor or grocery store

When you drink alcohol at home, which of the following ways do you get alcohol to your house? Do you...

Buy alcohol in a store and take it home Buy alcohol in a store and take it home 96%

Take a refillable container to a brewery/winery/distillery and have it filled or trade in to take home Take a refillable container to a brewery/winery/distillery and have it filled or trade in to take home 6%

Have alcohol delivered to your home Have alcohol delivered to your home 6%

Friends bring alcohol to your home Friends bring alcohol to your home 37%

Other Other 2%

(Source: Ipsos survey conducted between Feb. 25 and 26, 2019 among 797 beer, liquor and wine consumers in the U.S.)

GenPop: What impact is cannabis going to have?

Daniels: Jim Koch from Boston Beer Co. is fond of saying, “I think people have been smoking marijuana for a long time and still drinking beer.” That’s the optimistic point of view. The other point of view is that legalization makes it OK for people to explore marijuana as an alternative to beer. The question is whether it reduces beer consumption. You can eat a 10-milligram edible in 30 seconds. But what are you going to do with your hands and your mouth for the rest of the night? It’s kind of like shots. So maybe marijuana is going to be a substitute for the shot, and the beer is what actually occupies you.


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, Founder and global director, Cicerone Certification Program

The Cicerone Certification Program was founded by craft beer industry veteran Ray Daniels. He brings more than 25 years of brewing, judging, studying, and writing about beer to the task of managing the Cicerone program. While Daniels is based in Chicago, he travels regularly to all parts of the globe to monitor and direct the expansion of the program.

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