This October, VinePair is celebrating our second annual American Beer Month. From beer style basics to unexpected trends (pickle beer, anyone?), to historical deep dives and new developments in package design, expect an exploration of all that’s happening in breweries and taprooms across the United States all month long.

Summer 2021 sales of beverage alcohol declined on the whole this year compared to summer 2020, according to recent NielsenIQ data, with beer down 7.6 percent, wine down 8.7 percent, and spirits down 3.7 percent. That doesn’t sound good for beverage alcohol, but the good news is we’re still drinking more than in 2019. Beer sales increased 9.3 percent, wine 13 percent, and spirits a slightly alarming 29.9 percent compared to summer 2019, Brewbound reports. NielsenIQ designates the summer period May 2 to Sept. 11 for each year.

Here, the beer category includes hard seltzer, which increased slightly (3.3 percent) this summer and accounted for 11.3 percent of overall beer sales. Compared to 2019, though? Hard seltzer saw a 175.6 percent increase in dollar sales between summer 2021 and summer 2019.

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Beer on its own without hard seltzer, cider, or flavored malt beverages (FMBs) declined 9.2 percent between this summer and last, but squeezed out a 0.6 percent increase compared to summer 2019. Craft beer, super-premium beer, and FMBs all showed decreases compared to 2020, and increases compared to 2019. Craft beer took the biggest hit in the core beer category with a 12.8 percent decline in 2021 versus 2020; however, it increased 3.4 percent compared to 2019.

The sole core beer category that saw dollar sales increase in 2021 and 2020? Mexican imports (which we can safely assume is Mexican lager).

Cider — poor cider — consecutively declined 13.6 percent compared to 2020, and 3.2 percent compared to 2019.

I’m not worried about beer disappearing, but I do think we all need to accept that the beer category at this time depends on hard seltzer for growth. When the writing’s on the wall, you can’t help but read it.

Pouches Are the New Can

Remember Capri Sun? Of course you do. Remember wishing the pouches could more easily be punctured by a straw and also that the juice had booze in it? Soon we’ll all be thanking Sunice for making this dream a reality.

Sunice is a new ready-to-drink (RTD) boozy fruit punch packaged in resealable plastic pouches. Stylized SUNiCE (at least the “i” isn’t an exclamation point), the packaging-first, recipe-second innovation is a creation of co-founders Wyatt Carder and Erik Weller.

Simon Thorpe, who is additionally listed as a co-founder, told Brewbound he believes Sunice’s pouches — which look something like a cross between a baby food package and a Ziploc bag — are the next “innovation inflection [point]” for beverage alcohol, comparing it to the moment Oskar Blues popularized craft beer being packaged in cans.

If that sounds absurd, consider this: Thorpe is a former CEO of Pabst, former president and CEO of Duvel Moortgat (overseeing its acquisitions of Firestone Walker and Boulevard), and he most recently left his post as a managing director of Lion Little World Beverage, the Kirin-owned entity that acquired New Belgium Brewing in 2019. He also worked at Anheuser-Busch in the Stella Artois heyday. So, basically, he probably knows what he’s talking about — or, at least, he knows where he’s going to see return on investment.

Also on the team, according to Brewbound, are Chris Campbell, Marc Howarth, and Austin Sawyer, who between them have past experience at Molson Coors, Craft Brew Alliance, Crook & Marker, Red Bull, and Lakeshore Beverage.

Do I find the mental image of these Big Beer Bigwigs hopping on a Zoom to discuss selling booze-filled baby food pouches to hot young 20-somethings disturbing? Yes. Do I resent the fact that they’re calling a cooler of pouches and a frisbee a “picnic?” A little. But if I look deep inside myself, here’s what I find: I’m not mad about it. It’s another drinking vessel to play with, and why not? If this is what it takes to appeal to a new generation of drinkers, I’m here for it.

One of the first Black-owned breweries in the United States was Peoples Beer in Oshkosh, Wisc.
Credit: Wisconsin Public Radio

Some good news

Did you know one of the first Black-owned breweries in the United States was Peoples Beer in Oshkosh, Wis.? An individual named Theodore “Ted” Mack purchased the brewery in 1970, and last year, Oak Park Brewing Co. partnered with Mack’s son, Ted Mack II, to revive the brand.

Now, the collaboration hopes to go national. In September, Oak Park announced plans to grow Brew Your Story into a nationwide collaboration. Oak Park brewer Rodg Little said in a press release that the collaboration aims to “create a platform for Black-owned breweries to grow their businesses.”

The partnership has a unique historic tie to Black American brewery ownership, and with Black Is Beautiful Beer as a guide, Brew Your Story is an exciting initiative to watch.

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