Well, here we are. Hop Take’s first full calendar year is in the books, and the beer industry is worse off than it was 12 months prior. I blame myself, I really do. Still, one does not simply stop posting, and neither does your humble Hop Take columnist. So rather than dwell on the past, reader, let’s look ahead to the year to come. Sure, the American beer business got it from all directions in 2023, and I think there’s more trouble ahead. But squint hard enough and you can make out some bright spots on the horizon, too. Maybe?

In no particular order below are my top picks for the major commercial and cultural storylines that will reshape the brewing industry — for worse, or better — in 2024.

Anheuser-Busch InBev’s progress on the comeback trail.

The world’s biggest beer company spent most of last year flailing around for a marketing message for Bud Light that might soothe the country’s raging transphobes and Facebook-addled fellow travelers, and stanch the flagship’s sliding sales, with limited success. April 1, 2024 will mark a year since Dylan Mulvaney posted the innocuous Instagram video that became pretense for the conservative shitfit that dominated mainstream-media headlines for much of 2023. ABI’s attempts to move on, which included a $100 million deal with known-wife-slapper Dana White’s Ultimate Fighting Championship and some of the most milquetoast commercials ever to bear Bud Light’s name, have been pretty uninspired thus far. Whether the macrobrewer can get its mojo back this year strikes me as something approaching existential for North American chief executive Brendan Whitworth’s tenure atop ABI’s continental org chart, especially since his former chief marketing officer already made his exit late last year. Striking a deal with the Teamsters to avert a 5,000-worker strike at all 12 of its U.S. facilities at midnight on March 1 would be a step in the right direction.

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Boston Beer Co.’s ability to defend Twisted Tea’s crown against an army of challengers.

Hard tea is real, and it’s spectacular, at least as far as Twisted Tea’s sales figures are concerned. The blue-and-yellow gas-station stalwart had a colossal sales run in 2023, cementing its star position in Boston Beer Co.’s (BBC) portfolio after two decades quietly doing numbers on the back bench. 2024 augurs well for Twea, but 2019 augured well for Truly, and, well… look how that’s been turning out. (Not to mention Angry Orchard.) Can BBC avoid oversteering its juggernaut flavored malt beverage (FMB) into a ditch? The stakes have never been higher. Twea holds some 90 percent of the hard tea segment, but 2023 saw dozens of would-be rivals hit the market from fellow big craft brewers (New Belgium Brewing), tea-forward heavyweights (AriZona), and Big Beverage interlopers (Coca-Cola, Monster, PepsiCo…) The brand’s near-total market share can’t last; keep an eye on how quickly it gets whittled away this year, and how much.

The fight for ABI’s shelf space between Molson Coors and Constellation Brands.

Thanks to ABI’s aforementioned gaffes in 2023, the lost beer-aisle placements to low-switching-cost brands with less baggage and more revenue potential. Miller Lite and Coors Light benefited big time, with Molson Coors’ (MC) chief commercial officer Michelle St. Jacques touting “game changing momentum” to the firm’s distributors last September. Then of course there was Constellation Brands’ Modelo Especial, which overtook Bud Light as the country’s best-selling beer by some metrics last year. Spring resets will hit in March 2024, and America’s No. 2 and No. 3 macrobrewers both stand to scoop more shelf space from rival ABI. Goldman Sachs’ beverage industry analyst Bonnie Herzog sees Constellation scoring the most new room in convenience stores, followed by MC. Which firm will win out in the next round of reshuffling overall, and how long will it hold those gains? Stay tuned.

Monster’s monster sophomore-season sales opportunity.

The energy drink giant muscled its way into the beverage-alcohol business by buying CANarchy Collective for $330 million in early 2022, then took its sweet time rolling out its first new hard drink, unleashing The Beast Unleashed in early 2023. At the time, I thought that the company might have missed the moment on crossover drinks, but I thought wrong. Beast rampaged through 2023, carrying Monster Beverage Corporation’s (MBC) nascent booze division to enormous sales gains and improbably even offering the company entree with female drinkers who have long eschewed the non-alc flagship’s Kyle-heavy vibe. What’s more, the company’s hard tea, Nasty Beast, only hit shelves in the back half of 2023, meaning there’s plenty of room to run.

The pace of consolidation among craft brewers and distributors.

Not with each other, though; that would be illegal! Depending on which state you’re reading this in, and a bunch of other details I do not care to get into. “Consolidation” has been nearly as much of a watchword in the trade as “premiumization” for the past couple years, and a lot of it is happening within the struggling craft beer segment and the all-important distribution sector. When it comes to the former, I’m curious to see whether 2024 is the year closures finally outstrip openings, the pace and scope of craft-on-craft tie-ups, and how many breweries Tilray Brands gobbles up in a buyer’s market. For the latter, all eyes (or at least, mine) are on Reyes Beer Division. Between all the gobbling it’s done, and its lucrative alignment with red-hot Constellation Brands, the country’s biggest distributor has amassed so much muscle in the middle tier that competitors are forming collectives to protect their flanks. (A different kind of consolidation, that.)

Statehouse battles over tax equivalency, soft-to-hard alcopops, and more.

The Biden administration made big waves among industry types in 2021 when it flagged the beer business for potentially anticompetitive practices, but the reality is that most alcohol regulation and legislation happens at the state level. Beer’s longstanding (and long-burnished) reputation as the beverage of moderation has won it favorable tax arrangements across the country, but the category’s foes in the spirits business have been working statehouse lobbies to chisel away at that status. Distillers were mostly unsuccessful in their efforts to secure more equitable taxation, retail placements, and distribution rules for liquor-based beverages in 2023, but that won’t stop them in 2024. Something that might give them pause — and brewers, too, if they can stop sniping their spirits brethren — is increased public-health and regulatory scrutiny among state legislators alarmed by the emergence of Hard Mountain Dew, Simply Spiked, and other soft-drink alcoholizations.

🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now

However you spent the week between Christmas and New Year’s Day this year, I’m guessing it wasn’t quite so petty and chaotic as that of the unnamed social-media saboteur who posted over a dozen memes to the brand’s own Instagram Stories lambasting Sapporo USA (SUSA) for shutting down Anchor Brewing Co. last year. The posts slammed the Japanese conglomerate’s stateside subsidiary for canceling Anchor’s long-running holiday seasonal and mismanaging it into liquidation, and took some shots at Stone Brewing Co., too, which SUSA acquired in 2022, relegating the San Francisco brewery to second fiddle. Seems like liquidators may have forgotten to change up Anchor’s social-media logins, eh?

📈 Ups…

The National Beer Wholesalers Association’s data from December 2023 show overall beer in less contraction than 2022, with most segments expanding… FMBs are growing faster than hard seltzers are shrinking in off-premise dollars, per Goldman Sachs’ year-end review…

📉 …and downs

New Jersey’s breweries are still on knife’s edge as regulators briefly postpone enforcement of draconian taproom laws to mid-January… Also in Jersey, Flying Fish Brewing Co. filed for bankruptcy last month after a failed mid-2023 merger with Cape May Brewing Co.…. Tree House Brewing Co.’s co-owners asked Massachusetts Superior Court to dismiss a shareholder lawsuit alleging misuse of funds, profligate spendingWeathered Souls Brewing Co. is trying to sell its Charlotte, N.C., location just over a year after opening…

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