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IPA Style Leads Craft Beer’s Charge, Say Retailers

May 24, 2013

In markets around the country, beer retailers and bar operators say the heavily hopped India Pale Ale (IPA) style is now dominating the craft segment. While seasonal crafts (combined) are still craft beer’s top sellers, that’s unlikely to remain the case as IPAs continue to rise.

Rob Hill, new programs manager for Total Wine & More, has noticed the incredible growth of IPAs at the 90-unit chain. “The category is now big enough that we’ve created an entire beer-tasting class focused solely on the multiple iterations of IPAs,” says Hill, who’s a certified cicerone. “We have shoppers who’ve heard the term ‘IPA’ but don’t know what it means. So it’s a beer education opportunity for us.”

Increasingly, retailers are carving out specific space in their cooler and shelf sets to merchandise IPAs as a category. Misha Johnson, beer category manager of Nugget Markets, a nine-unit chain in Sacramento, California, last year implemented a 12-foot category set for IPAs. The IPA category now accounts for around 20% of Nugget’s beer sales. Top-selling IPAs include Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Lagunitas and Bear Republic Brewing Co.’s Racer 5.

On-premise operators are also seeing strong trends. IPAs are the most popular draft style served at Downtown Johnny Brown’s in San Diego, according to manager Tina Beck. Out of 18 draft pours ($5.50 and $7 a pint), there are always three IPAs on tap. At Grey Lodge Public House in Philadelphia, owner Mike Scoats says draft IPAs ($4.50 to $5.75 a pint) are joined by about eight IPAs in bottles and cans, similarly priced.

Hype has also played a big role in the IPA segment’s skyrocketing growth. “There’s urgency among consumers to get those small-production, one-off brews,” says Johnson. “Even 60-year-old Bud drinkers come in looking for Pliny the Younger.”

Long term, retailers and marketers are bullish on the category. “We believe there are enough additional people discovering and switching to craft beer to sustain this trend for the foreseeable future,” Total Wine’s Hill says.

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