The consumer mindset has contributed greatly to the beerscape. “Drivers of imported beer growth include the ‘mainstreaming’ of imported beer brands,” says the report. “Twenty years ago, the only consumers of imported beer were beer connoisseurs and foreigners. Today, though imports remain an upscale product, consumers from every economic, social and cultural group consume imports on occasion.”

ibdsbImports have delivered the mass that craft beers never could. While microbrews and other specialties were racking up impressive annual gains of between 22 and 42 percent from a relatively tiny base between 1991 and 1996, imports, with a more significant base, were beginning to register increases in the low double-digits. The craft explosion left a halo around imports as well–and it’s the foreign beers that have continued to benefit as domestic specialties have sagged (actually off by 1 to 2 percent in ’98, says BMC).

So it’s a bittersweet legacy left by the major micro excitement of the mid-’90s. “Once content with mass-produced domestic lagers, consumers are more frequently opting for higher-quality, fuller-bodied, rich-tasting beers,” notes the report. “In addition, the brand preference set for any given beer drinker is likely to have expanded. Where once a consumer would be loyal to a single brand, he or she is now more likely to select different brands based on the consumption occasion. Of no lesser importance is consumers’ current willingness to pay a premium for high-end brands.”

That circumstance could describe domestic specialties