On the Other Hand, Maybe IPAs ARE the Most Popular

I am about to embark on a fascinating day hosted by BridgePort Brewing in celebration of their 30th anniversary.  They're going to have a lot of the pivotal figures from the brewery's history in attendance--folks like founder Dick Ponzi (whom I've never met), Gambrinus founder Carlos Alvarez, and the often-forgotten Australian brewer Phil Sexton--the man who built BridgePort IPA.  But before I go, a comment on yesterday's thread and the difficulty of fingering the "most popular."

In comments, Tim pointed out that mass market lagers are still king, outselling craft 6 or 7 to one.  And of course he's right.  However, that doesn't actually tell the whole picture--and indeed, it may confound it.  If we think of popularity as defined by barrels sold, mass market lagers undeniably "most popular."  But that's not usually how we count popularity.  We count heads.  How much of the beer-drinking population favors mass market lagers?  On that score, it may be a lot lower than we think.

There's that old 20/80 rule (the "Pareto principle") that describes markets: 20% of the people do 80% of the drinking.  What portion of those heavy drinkers are consumers of mass market lagers versus craft beer?  Probably a lot--that's why Natty Light is sold in multiples of 12 and craft beer comes in 22s.  If we look at all the people who drink beer, the population will include a ton of people who just have an occasional pint, many of them choosing craft.  (The data are woefully incomplete, but surveys have vividly illustrated the point.)

When we measure hits on websites to determine popularity, we don't focus on the people who spend three hours each visit--we just count heads.  By that metric, craft beer--and IPAs--are a lot more popular than the sales figures suggest.