Recent reports from IRI and Nielsen show off-premise sales of beer, flavored malt beverages (FMBs), and hard seltzer all increased in 2019.

According to Nielsen, sales of beer, FMBs (including hard seltzer), and cider increased 3.4 percent to $39.6 billion in 2019. Beer comprises a much bigger slice of the pie — per IRI, $37.2 billion compared to FMBs’ $4 billion — but the latter category’s hard seltzer segment is on the rise.

Nielsen puts hard seltzer sales at $1.5 billion in 2019 — which may sound slim in terms of dollars — but marks an increase of nearly 213 percent. Broken out by individual brand, it shows 330 percent growth for White Claw (Mark Anthony Brands), and 180 percent for Truly Hard Seltzer (Boston Beer).

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Craft beer dollar sales grew 2.8 percent to $4.3 billion. However, this notably includes major players such as Molson Coors’ Blue Moon Belgian White, Anheuser-Busch’s Elysian Space Dust IPA, Heineken’s Lagunitas IPA, and Mahou San Miguel’s Founders All Day IPA.

If you’re gawking, you’re not alone. Call it consumer fatigue, the rise in “wellness” culture, or the apocalypse, but make no mistake — hard seltzer is surging. I suspect the clear, fruit-flavored bubbly stuff is sating Americans’ thirst for simplicity, “guilt-free” drinking, and easy imbibing.

Don’t like hard seltzer? It’s high time to support the breweries and beer brands you love — but don’t be surprised if they start selling spiked seltzer, too.

Molson Coors Acquires Craft Brewery

Molson Coors scooped up another craft brewery, Atwater Brewery, of Detroit, Mich. As a subsidiary of Molson Coors’ Tenth and Blake craft division, Atwater joins a portfolio including Jacob Leinenkugel, Saint Archer, Terrapin, AC Golden, Hop Valley, and Revolver brewing companies. The deal is expected to close “within the next couple of months,” according to a press release.

Although Tenth and Blake Vice President Paul Verdu said the company aims “to make sure their [Atwater’s] beer is enjoyed by consumers throughout their core markets and eventually across the Great Lakes region,” I have a hunch it’s not about the beer.

At least, not entirely. Atwater, which claims its top-selling brands include a blonde ale and a porter, also produces hard seltzer and craft spirits. Molson Coors, the world’s second-largest brewing company, rebranded this month as Molson Coors Beverage Company (the name change, announced in October 2019, is effective January 2020). Coincidence? I think not.

Schlafly Buys, Rebrands Local Brewpub

Last week, St. Louis’s Schlafly Beer announced the acquisition of Trailhead Brewing Co. The St. Charles, Mo., brewpub will be rebranded as Schlafly Bankside, marking Schlafly’s third operating brewpub, St. Louis Magazine reports. Schlafly Bankside is expected to launch by the end of February 2020.

Sad as it may be for some (Trailhead, according to SLM, is a neighborhood institution), the sale is overall positive. According to SLM, Trailhead founder Bob Kirkwood wanted to retire and was seeking a buyer. Schlafly fulfilled his and his business partners’ wishes “to find a suitable buyer that would continue to brew quality beer, contribute the same positive experience to the customer, and value the current staff,” Kirkwood told the local publication.

Schlafly is also offering all current Trailhead employees positions at the rebranded brewery, which to me is arguably the most important part. After all, buyouts are no fun if the brewery’s hard-working staff gets kicked to the curb. Brewery mergers and acquisitions, like beer, can be bittersweet. But Schlafly CEO Fran Caradonna told SLM the breweries expect “an easy transition.”

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