Gotta Have It

Younger, hipper drinkers are changing craft beer's demographics, tweet by tweet

Think “devoted beer drinker,” and someone like Erin Manus probably doesn’t come to mind. The 26-year-old Santa Rosa resident works as a hospitality director in the wine industry. She has a degree in gender studies from SSU. She’s petite and healthy, with nary a beer-induced double chin in sight. And yet Manus absolutely adores craft beer, a passion evinced in the slew of photos on her Instagram feed and glowing posts on her blog, SparklingLover, about weekend treks to new breweries.

Manus and husband Derek, a 29-year-old home insurance salesman, are among a new breed of beer enthusiasts. They post prized beer acquisitions on social media with hashtags like #instabeer, #beertravel, #nowdrinking and #drinksocially. They tweet the latest craft beers coming out of new hotspots across the United States. They wait in line for hours to try Pliny the Younger. They hold beer-and-food-pairing parties. They check in at brewpubs and taprooms using apps like RateBeer.

“It’s about sharing your beer with the world,” says Manus, checking into Untappd from our location at Heritage Public House as she sips on a Sonoma Mountain wheat from Dempsey’s. “I’ve met friends on Instagram who end up visiting Sonoma County,” she adds. “A lot of beer friends meet through social media. For example, you might introduce yourself to someone who’s just checked in at the same place where you’re at.”

With a laugh, Erin says her dad, a dedicated Bud Light drinker, makes fun of her for documenting beer adventures. “He’s like, ‘This is what I like and this is what I drink,'” she explains. “But the millennial generation is very into new things, and craft beer is perfect for this.” As a result, collecting untried beers has become something of a quest.

“If they erased something and put something new up there,” she says, pointing to the chalkboard beer list hanging above us, “I would order it.”

Up until about 10 years ago, the typical American beer drinker was either (a) middle-aged and paunchy, who drowned the sorrows of the blue-collar workday with a cold can of Bud or Coors Light or, if times were tight, Natural Ice; or (b) some college guy beer-bonging Schlitz at a frat party. Like Bob and Doug McKenzie from cult comedy Strange Brew, these stalwart drinkers of domestic lagers weren’t doing much thinking about wild yeasts, hop character or mouthfeel.

But seek out an ale-drenched movie in 2013 and you’ll get Drinking Buddies, which replaces the pudgy McKenzie brothers with foxy indie superstars Jake Johnson and Olivia Wilde, who play craft beer lovers that work together in a Chicago microbrewery. Decked out in plaid shirts and black skinny jeans, the two lust over pints of Imperial IPAs infused with Citra hops and a slight hint of green tea. Even Paste, the indier-than-thou music magazine out of Georgia, is getting in on the action, with this summer’s Untapped, an indie music festival and beer festival rolled into one.

As Tom Acitelli writes in The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution, starting in about 2008, “craft beer became regularly talked about as ‘an affordable luxury,’ a status symbol of sorts. . . . [Y]uppies drank it then; now their hipster children do.”

The Sonoma County Economic Development Board is paying attention to the exploding visibility of the formerly blue-collar brew as well. In June, it released its “Sonoma County Craft Beverage Report,” giving the pie-chart treatment to countywide artisanal beer, cider and spirits sales. The numbers speak for themselves. In 2012, craft beer sales alone increased 41 percent by volume, and craft brewing in the county has had an estimated
$123 million economic impact.

Come November, the board will host an industry conference to explore the opportunities for economic output, jobs and tourism surrounding craft beverages. “We’d like to see more branding associated with it,” says research program coordinator Matt Liedtke.

The changing craft beer demographic is a phenomenon that has not gone unnoticed by Jeff Bull, a Santa Rosa–based beer blogger. Bull established about five years ago. The site features reviews, photos and interviews with people like Tatiana Peavey, the death-metal-loving blogger behind and employee at Taphunter, an integrated web and mobile technology platform for craft beer.

“I’ve seen it change night and day,” says Bull. “The people that I know—men, women, young, old, people just turning 21—are wanting to try the new stuff and not just Keystone Light. I’ve seen such diversity in the types of people that are willing to try these products. It’s almost a paradigm shift from where it was seven or eight years ago.”

Sonoma County Library