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Craft Brewers Lighten Up and Take Aim on the ‘Sweaty Consumer’

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For Sam Calagione, a founding father of the craft brewery Dogfish Head, his firm’s efforts to get more healthy had a egocentric origin.

“I started to notice that I was getting an everything bagel on my midriff,” mentioned Mr. Calagione, attributing the burden achieve to the a number of beers he drinks every day for work. “So I was like, well, I’m not going to slow down drinking, so I better start innovating some lower-calorie but super flavorful beers.”

In 2016, the brewery, which relies in Delaware, started producing its 140-calorie bitter, SeaQuench Ale, which it promoted as “the most thirst-quenching beer Dogfish Head has ever brewed.” Now, Mr. Calagione forecasts that of the 300,000-plus barrels of beer the brewery will produce this yr, greater than 1 / 4 will cater to the calls for of shoppers extra involved with sustaining energetic life than they’re with hops or excessive alcohol content material. One beer is a brand new I.P.A. with fewer energy than a Bud Light.

The craft beer market has expanded quickly over the previous decade, as breweries throughout the United States have dreamed up whimsical and ingenious beers, usually with unconventional substances — Beet sugar! Jalapeños! — together with excessive calorie counts and elevated A.B.V. (alcohol by quantity) figures. The similar breweries are actually seeking to make merchandise much like one they’ve lengthy ignored and even scorned: watery, mild beer.

“I think it’s only natural that they’re going to look outside the traditional craft beer box,” Benj Steinman, the president of the commerce publication Beer Marketer’s Insights, mentioned of craft breweries. “Business is hard right now. You can’t sit still.”

From 2010 to 2018, craft beers’ share of the United States market by quantity grew from roughly four.9 p.c to 13.2 p.c, in line with the Brewers Association, an trade commerce group. But mild beers from massive brewers nonetheless dominate. Bud Light, Coors Light and Miller Lite are three of the 4 best-selling beers within the nation on an annual foundation. And progress within the general quantity of craft beer being produced and offered has slowed over the previous few years.

One potential problem is that 52 p.c of beer drinkers mentioned this yr that they wished to cut back their consumption of alcohol, in line with a survey performed by the Harris Poll in partnership with Nielsen. “Opting for healthier lifestyle” was the highest cause cited.

So craft brewers are adjusting. Some of the larger craft manufacturers have even acquired smaller craft labels lately, strikes that will make some lighter craft beers extra extensively accessible. Dogfish Head and Boston Beer Company introduced this month that they’d merged in a deal valued at $300 million. In February, the legacy craft brewery Sierra Nevada acquired the three-year-old Sufferfest Beer Company, which is marketed to runners.

Paul Geffken, 36, a member of the Borderline Running Club in North Andover, Mass., mentioned that Miller High Life had been the group’s official beer because it was based. But he and a number of other of his fellow runners who’re coaching for marathons are quietly rebelling with 26.2 Brew, a beer from the aptly named Marathon Brewing, a part of Boston Beer Company, that’s marketed to athletes.

Mr. Geffken mentioned he most popular to drink one thing that was “somewhat refreshing” after a run. He added that along with sea salt for electrolytes, “26.2 has coriander in it.”

“It’s not your traditional Bud Light or craft beer, really,” he mentioned. “And after a race, you want to put something in your system, but you don’t want something heavy.”

Mike Mitaro, the president of the Brewers Advisory Group, mentioned that breweries wanted to acknowledge these tendencies and adapt accordingly.

“In the early 2000s, the millennial generation drove the growth of craft beer,” Mr. Mitaro mentioned. “As people get into their 30s, they think more about calories and health and wellness. It’s a different mind-set than when you’re in your 20s, so people are more apt to gravitate back toward lighter beer.”

But slightly than merely recreate the sunshine beers they’ve lengthy derided, many craft brewers wish to emphasize their artisanal handiwork. Some beers, like Dogfish Head’s 95-calorie Slightly Mighty, are lighter, lower-alcohol variations of I.P.A.s, which regularly comprise 200-plus energy and A.B.V.s above 5 p.c, that also command respectable taste. Others, like Harpoon Brewery’s Rec. League and Sufferfest’s gluten-removed Repeat, function chia seeds, bee pollen or different substances that purport to have well being advantages like decreasing irritation or decreasing blood strain. And some craft breweries are merely producing nonalcoholic beer.

“I think these perceived healthy beverages will become an increasing part of the portfolio of a lot of craft brewers,” Mr. Mitaro mentioned. “When you have 7,000 entrepreneurs all working for the benefit of their own company, you get a collective quick response that shakes out what works and what doesn’t.”

Beyond simply lopping off energy and including superfoods to their recipes, breweries are advertising and marketing their beers as elements that match into clients’ energetic life. Caitlin Landesberg, the founding father of Sufferfest, mentioned that her brewery’s beers wouldn’t be extensively accessible at faucet rooms or beer festivals. Rather, Sufferfest would proceed to be marketed to athletes, together with being given out as celebratory beers on the end line of races.

“From Day 1, we focused on the ‘sweaty consumer,’” she mentioned. “There is that demographic that is the millennial person who votes with dollars, who wants to have something that’s new and indulgent but understands their health-conscious lifestyle, and that sweaty consumer is a tribe that I’m a part of and speak to and sweat with.”

Dan Lamonaca, the proprietor of the Brooklyn store Beer Karma, mentioned craft beer purists have had few complaints in regards to the lighter brews largely as a result of, in contrast to different health-oriented drinks like laborious seltzer and laborious kombucha that craft brewers have tried to faucet into, they’re truly beers.

Rob Burns, a founding father of Night Shift Brewing in Massachusetts, mentioned that the corporate’s Nite Lite lager, an upscale model of a mass-produced mild beer that’s brewed with flaked corn, had been created partly to nip on the market share of the brewing giants — and to offer craft beer drinkers a break from palate-busting I.P.A.s.

“Why did we wall off the biggest part of the beer sandbox to these global brewers, while the local brewers are playing in the 10, 15 percent market share hopland?” Mr. Burns requested. He added that by setting a retail value for 12-packs of Nite Lite at $1 to $three extra on common than Bud Light or Miller Lite, Night Shift may entice non-craft drinkers thirsty for a premium model of their regular lighter beer.

Emboldened by what Mr. Burns mentioned was the unexpectedly robust demand for Nite Lite, which exceeded the accessible provide now and again, Night Shift lately launched a Nite Lite variation, Lime Lite, to proceed its push into the home marketplace for mild beer.

And as for Dogfish Head’s Slightly Mighty, Mr. Calagione mentioned orders had been surpassing the corporate’s preliminary predictions. The firm’s preliminary estimates anticipated needing to provide 5,000 barrels this yr. Based on distributors’ orders, the determine has been revised to 35,000.

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