The Next Big Little Brewery

Eno Sarris, December 16, 2013

We're always dealing with sample issues here at BeerGraphs. Our data mostly comes from untappd, an app that allows beer lovers to rate their beers socially. For the most part, only people who really care about beer download and use the app. And those people usually prefer craft beer. So our numbers, and our analysis, is skewed towards craft beer.

But, even in the untappd numbers, Big Beer rises to the top. Look at the top ten beers by count in our sample. Right now, the rule for craft beer is that you're a craft beer if you're smaller than Samuel Adams. (Look it up, it's true.) Look how the list is all Big Beer plus Sammy, a grandpa and a young interloper:

Brewery Beer Average Count
Anheuser-Busch (ABInBev) Bud Light 2.28 61442
Guinness Guinness Draught 3.69 54410
Miller Brewing Company Miller Lite 2.45 52857
Coors Brewing Company Coors Light 2.36 50681
Yuengling Brewery Traditional Lager 3.18 46259
Pabst Brewing Company Pabst Blue Ribbon (PBR) 2.58 44286
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) Samuel Adams Octoberfest 3.36 42765
Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. Pale Ale 3.36 38659
Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) Samuel Adams Boston Lager 3.09 36535
Lagunitas Brewing Company IPA 3.48 35865

Congratulations, Lagunitas IPA, you might be the new Samuel Adams, the new Big Little. Right now. You've beaten out Blue Moon, Heineken, Stella Artois, and Budweiser heavy... at least on your own turf. At least with one beer. Still, those are heady count numbers for a little beer that once made poop beer by accident.

Other evidence supports Lagunitas as the next Samuel Adams. Samuel Adams has two beers in the top ten, and Lagunitas has two in the top 22 (Lagunitas Sucks) and three in the top 32 (A Little Sumpin Sumpin). From a distribution angle, it's in 50 states now and featuring an expansion set (with taproom) in Chicago (hiring now!). It was of 2012's biggest gainers in sales. Maybe soon you'll be able to soiffe a Lagunitas Sucks in your typical airport TGI Fridays.

But all of that is happening already, or happening now. Which brewery and beer is next? Which brewery and beer has the chance to move one of its own into this top ten, right along side the distinguished likes of Corona Extra?

We already have Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, in someways the grandfather of the scene. In the next ten, we see Bell's Two-Hearted, New Belgium Fat Tire, Ballast Point Sculpin, and Stone IPA. In the top 25, we have Dogfish Head's 60 Minute IPA, Founders' Breakfast Stout, and Oskar Blues' Dale's Pale Ale. But by that point in the rankings, the worm has turned, and there a lot more small beers.

So let's focus on the top 20. Corona is #18, after all, and anything that can beat Corona probably has the attention of distributors on a national level. Will it be Bell's, Sierra Nevada, Ballast Point, New Belgium or Stone that next makes a large move into the national consciousness as a brewer?

If distribution is one of our requirements, and it should be, then it might be interesting that, of this group, Sierra Nevada is the only one that has distribution to 40+ states according to Seek-a-Brew. Rank the rest in order, and you get: Stone (39), New Belgium (32), Ballast Point (21), and Bell's (20). Unfortunately, this probably pushes Bell's and Ballast Point out of the discussion until they up their distro to more than half of the states out there. They can't hang with the 40+ state breweries for now at least.

So, which breweries make sense in a sentence that starts "The Next Samuel Adams is..."? If Lagunitas is our first answer, we're now down to Stone, New Belgium and Sierra Nevada as our possible next crossover hits. Sierra Nevada's really the only beer within shouting distance of Sam Adams in barrel production.

Perhaps the next aspect of being a Big Little brewery is the ability to make solid beers that appeal to people across the line. Lagunitas was a positive when we ran the 'Solid' numbers, meaning their beers were generally rated well across the board and they had fewer negative beers. Stone and Sierra were solid, too. New Belgium was not.

It's probably fair to put the beer against their competition at the top of their respective leaderboards. Lagunitas and Sam Adams match up fairly well. Take a look at Sierra, Stone and New Belgium up against each other, and it's pretty clear what's up. Stone separates itself from Sierra on that point, even if they check many of the same boxes up to that point. Even if New Belgium and Sierra Nevada sell more beers right now.

Stone. They survived the first beer bubble. They just won BeerGraphs' Rookie of the Year with w00tstout. Their Enjoy By IPA might have been 2012's Rookie of the Year. They distribute to more states than anyone in their class other than Sierra Nevada. They have more critical acclaim than Sierra Nevada. They have five beers in the top 75 by count. They're top ten in sales, but not top three, and not in Sam Adams' stratosphere.

If Sam Adams was the first Big Little, though, and Lagunitas looks like now's Big Little / big mover, maybe Stone is the next Big Little.

Thanks to wiki commons user Elf for the header image.