Economy unleashes "perfect storm" for boutique beer

Mon Aug 17, 2009 11:24am EDT
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By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Boutique beers are the new cocktail as more money-conscious Americans choose cheaper high quality draft beers made by small local breweries over wine and spirits amid the country's recession, experts say.

A new generation of craft brewers, defined by some as those who produce less than 2 million barrels a year, is attracting new drinkers who would rather pay $6 to $8 for premium draft than a cocktail or glass of wine that costs twice as much.

"You can buy an exceptional beer for half the price of a mediocre glass of wine," said New York beer maker Kelly Taylor at a recent tasting event where he offered his Kelso beer alongside sage-flavored corn bread.

"The bite of the hops and the citrus of the Belgian yeast cuts through the sweetness of the corn bread," he told one skeptical taster.

Across the United States, craft breweries and shops specializing in artisanal and import beers are growing, with merchants betting that tough economic times will turn Americans who once favored wine or liquor toward premium beers.

"Even in this economy, people want to treat themselves to really extraordinary things," said Justin Philips, co-owner of the Beer Table bar in the New York City borough of Brooklyn. "People are recognizing that there is a diverse world of beer. And it tends to be less expensive than other drinks."

The number of boutique breweries in the United States has grown by nearly 5 percent in the past five years to 1,476 breweries, said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, a non-profit industry group based in Colorado.

Each brewery now makes an average of 5,659 barrels of beer per year, an increase of nearly 35 percent since 2004.   Continued...

<p>Visitors toast each other on a sunny day during Oktoberfest in Munich, September 27, 2008. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach</p>