More on the Growth of Craft Beer…

Craft beer sales hoppin’, including F.X. Matt brews

Devon Hoffman, Assistant gift shop and tour center manager, gives a beer to Eleanor Seckner, 73, at FX Matt Brewery Wednesday April 18, 2012.

Todd Greer is willing to pay more just to savor the right type of beer.

The 45-year-old Utican’s favorites: Saranac, Heineken and Budweiser.

“It’s worth it because those are the ones I really enjoy drinking,” Greer said.

Beer lovers nationwide have the same attitude. Though the cost of beer has risen, so has the appetite of craft beer drinkers.

Sales of craft beers, such as Saranac, are increasing while mainstream beer sales continue to plunge. At the same time, the cost of beer production continues to increase leaving consumers with the tab.

U.S. craft beer sales rose almost 15 percent from 10.7 million barrels in 2010 to 12.25 barrels in 2011, according to Beer Marketer’s Insights Inc.

This compares to the more than 2 percent decrease in mainstream beer sales from 198.3 million barrels in 2010 to 193.5 million in 2011.

Local craft breweries such as F.X. Matt Brewing Co. in Utica and Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown have noticed the increase.

Ommegang has had an annual growth rate of 25 percent over the past five years, said Larry Bennett, director of public relations and creative services.

F.X. Matt’s 2011 sales increased between 10 and 12 percent, said Nick Matt, chairman and chief operating officer. The brewery was ranked 12th in the nation for overall beer sales in 2011, moving up from 13th in 2010 and 14th in 2009, according to the Brewers Association.

“We’re really pleased with that,” Matt said. “This has turned out to be a good time for craft brewers.”

Beer reflects economy

Craft-beer brewers generally are small, independent and tend to use different flavors and malts. They compare to mainstream beer, such as light lagers.

Consumers are looking for more flavorful kinds of beer, said Eric Shepard, executive editor of Beer Marketer’s Insights. That, and a desire to buy local, favor craft beer, he said.

According to The Beer Institute in Washington, D.C., the lack of mainstream, value brand and low-end beer sales is a reflection of the economic state of the working class.

White-collar workers, however, have not been hit as hard through job cuts and still are able to purchase extras, such as beer, according to The Beer Institute. They tend to purchase mid to high-end beer, such as craft beer.

Other factors impacting mainstream sales include competition from spirits, wine and of course, craft beer.

Craft beer is an “affordable luxury,” Matt said. “You can spend a reasonable amount of money and really enjoy yourself.”

Rising costs

Though sales are up, so are the costs of producing craft beers.

“Nothing is getting cheaper,” Bennett said.

The biggest cost is transportation, he said — “It’s heavy and you have to move it around” — and hops and barley prices also are increasing due to an unstable agricultural market.

Exact figures were not available.

To combat the increase, brewers have had to raise their prices.

Ommegang, for example, increased its cost between 4 percent and 6 percent this year, Bennett said. F.X. Matt boosted its prices about 4 percent, Matt said.

The average cost of a 16-ounce bottle of beer nationally increased almost 3 percent from March 2011 to this year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index.

Still, amber ale enthusiasts will continue to pay top dollar for their favorites.

Gordon Seckner, 75, of Camden, mainly reaches for a Steel Reserve “high gravity lager,” his favorite.

“Most people find a brand they like and stick with it.”

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