Fear among some brewers is that legal cannabis will siphon sales away from beer. (The pot industry does not assuage these concerns when it advertises as the “safer” alternative to alcohol.) But do consumers really trade one product for another?
Not necessarily, according to Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association, which represents small and independent breweries. According to data compiled by the national trade organization, sales of craft beer are actually better in states with recreational cannabis.
Explosive in past years, craft beer’s growth has slowed in recent time. But those gains are actually higher where pot is fully legal, according to Watson. “States that have the most access to cannabis have the best beer trends,” he says.
The second-best craft beer trends are in states without recreational cannabis, but with operational medicinal pot markets. Again, according to Brewers Association research, the more cannabis is legal, the better for craft beer.
Moreover, 27% of beer drinkers polled by C2G said they had already substituted cannabis for beer, or would substitute their retail beer purchases with cannabis in the future if legal. C2G predicted that if cannabis became legal nationally, the beer industry would lose more than $2 billion in retail sales.
Why the conflicting reports?
The operative word may be “craft.” Big Beer might be more likely to see its consumers swap their same-old macro pale lagers for trendy new recreational cannabis. But the craft category is based more on cross-brand experimentation, connoisseurship and consumer loyalty towards the lifestyle. This difference in consumer attitudes may keep more consumers from abandoning craft for cannabis — and instead combine the two.
Major players in the industry have already spoken out in favor of pot. Stone Brewing Co-founder Greg Koch said he occasionally smokes a joint while drinking craft beer. Many other major craft brand owners, brewers and distillers have admitted to dual consumption, though off the record. Companies have already begun making cannabis brews, while craft/cannabis pairings have become a thing.
So if legal cannabis has displayed a positive effect on craft beer, what’s the cause?
Watson believes it’s still too early to know for sure what exactly is happening — and whether there really is a direct correlation.
“I’m not ready to say yet what kind of effect cannabis will have on craft beer,” he says, “but it does seem like any doom and gloom people felt about cannabis driving down beer volumes is not supported by the current data.”
“And who knows,” he adds, “there’s still the possibility that legalization could have positive trends in the long run for craft beer.”
Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Cheers magazine. Reach him at email@example.com or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece Is Craft Beer Approaching a Bubble?