I Am What I Drink: Identity and Craft Beer

Long time readers of the blog will know the world of alcohol is one of life’s laboratories where […]

Bryan J. / 8.14.14


Long time readers of the blog will know the world of alcohol is one of life’s laboratories where our favorite theological themes are examined. Lord knows we’ve written a book’s worth of material on the subject of alcoholism, addiction, and the wisdom found in the world of recovery. Along with the very real and widespread issue of dependency, the bar scene is another petri dish where some of the most widespread identity-crafting techniques are employed. Chief among the questions of identity: what should I drink, and what will my order say about me.

For craft beer fans, the question of drink and identity is a regular one, and the statistics are now here to back that up. Beer blog and news aggregate BrewBound featured a marketing study yesterday showcasing a forecasted increase in the craft beer market. That’s not particularly news, but the survey data from inside the study was striking:

According to the report, 70 percent of 24-34 year-olds surveyed said the brand of beer “says a lot about you.”

“Craft beer is not only a beverage choice; it appears to be a lifestyle choice,” said Mintel’s food and drink analyst Beth Bloom.

So what factor influences craft beer purchases the most? Survey respondents said that 51 percent of the time, style is the most important factor when they are making their craft beer selections. However, when making non-craft purchases, respondents said style only influences the decision 11 percent of the time.

“The leading purchase driver among craft beer drinkers is style, pointing to a more discerning consumer base,” said Bloom. “This focus on style and flavor is a major element that differentiates a craft beer drinker from the rest, and points to the future of beer in the U.S.”…

When analyzing the household incomes for craft drinkers and mainstream drinkers, it’s clear that craft and non-craft purchasers differ considerably. In fact, the Mintel report found household income to be the “strongest determiner” of a craft beer purchase. One third of respondents from households earning more than $150,000 annually drink craft products while just 11 percent of those earning less than $25,000 do so….

Mintel also highlighted a few other statistics in its report:

  • Respondents from households with children are significantly more likely (61%) than those without (49%) to drink beer “to relax”.
  • Craft drinkers from the Midwest are significantly more likely than respondents from other regions to support a particular brewery (29%). Western states are most apt the most image conscious, with 57% agreeing that the type of beer you choose says a lot about you and 47% saying it’s a source of pride to try as many beers as they can. The consumption of craft beer is lowest in the South (16%).

In other words, craft beer drinkers derive a good chunk of identity from the fact that they’re craft beer drinkers. Not only does the “post college crowd” believe that chosen beer brands say a lot about their identity, but there’s also a correlation between household income and beer choice.

That’s not to say identity is only derived from beer, or craft beer, or artisanal organic local micro-brews. Try ordering a strawberry daiquiri as a bearded male or choosing a wine at a nice restaurant. But the survey is helpful in that it reveals some concrete numbers about self-conscious identity formation and the self-justifying efforts that go into one’s drink choice. As with any subculture, it’s only a matter of time before “someone will embrace a new obscurity that divides the true nerds from the poseurs, the grammarians from the slouches,” the beer drinker from the connoisseur.