Buying beer isn’t complicated. Or at least it never used to be.
As the craft beer boom marches on and the backs of bars transform into vivid jungles of trendy names and disruptive labels, the determined (and often hazy) beer buyer has had to adapt.
Now there is an all new way of choosing beer, routed in our psychology. It’s a simple state of mind. In that moment at the bar, your brain splits in two: Safety or Adventure.
The safe half of your brain just wants refreshment. It avoids the risk of making the wrong choice, or the pressure of the selection. It acts quickly and responds to what it sees, not what it thinks. It chooses the Peroni or the Heineken on tap. Safe, secure and easy.
But times change. Now there’s another side of our brain – the adventurer.
It wants a taste sensation. It embraces the ‘risk’ of a flavour it might not like. It’s also about you. The adventurous brain looks for the craft beer that reflects them. Fashionable, well-travelled and original. A perfectly selected Belgian brew is as much an accessory as a refreshment.
It’s in this nook that craft beer has boomed. They’re different. They’re new. They’re tasty. And so the adventurous side of our thirsty brains is like a kid in a sweet shop. Endless choice. Endless adventure.
But there’s a sting in the tail. Increasingly, as the craft beer market matures and continues to grow, many brands are discovering the craft sweetshop can have a glass ceiling.
Adventurous choices tend to be original ones; you can only try something for the first time once. If your appeal is tailored to the experimental side of the brain, then you’ll naturally be replaced by the fresh flavours of the new kids on the block.
This is why so many craft beers aren’t growing, and why the mainstream stalwarts of the draught taps remain. A plight worsened by the faux-craft beers introduced by the bigger names – Guinness’ Dublin Porter being the most recent example.
The inconvenient answer: craft beers eventually need to switch sides.
Uncomfortable as it may seem, it’s the brands who are brave enough to evolve and slowly start appealing to the safe side of the brain who not only survive – but thrive.
Brooklyn and BrewDog are both good examples and West Brewery is on a similar path. Great brands who could have easily sat as small, trendy craft beers for years to come - and slowly disappeared over time.
Instead they’re evolving their brand strategy and making the investment into distribution. They’re shunning craft-status, and going big. As a result, they’re fast becoming both a safe and an exciting choice for consumers.
Craft brands who embrace our adventurous brain may flourish initially, but it’s the brave ones who make the rocky transition to appeal to our safe brain who ultimately survive and grow. They’re the future: craft values and taste, but mainstream brand, marketing and distribution.
After all, you can only be the adventurous flavour of the month for so long.