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Hop Cider Succeeds Where Beer Bros Fail

Stocks in this article: TAP BUD BREW SAM

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- There's nothing more frustrating than some loudmouthed moron pointing out a problem without offering any sort of solution.

Especially when you're the moron in question.

Last month, we got all over the case of the folks at SABMiller-MolsonCoors (TAP) joint venture MillerCoors and their competitors at Anheuser-Busch InBev  (BUD) for branding and releasing hard cider for men. As Nielsen has made clear, the split between male and female hard-cider drinkers is close to 50-50, unlike the 72% male/28% female split for beer.

Since the big brewers are so engrossed in their demographic data and have been pushing light lager with a huge male audience for so long, their overcompensation on bro-targeted ciders such as MillerCoors' Smith & Forge and A-B's upcoming Johnny Appleseed is likely just a reaction to the male market share they're losing from their economy and premium beers. They want those young, departing guys to jump to another product in their supply chain, but know that drinking-age millennials will pick up a cider just as quickly as they'll go for a craft beer. It makes sense that the big brewers would want to target males specifically, but cider is rarely marketed by gender tropes and tends to draw a gender neutral audience even when it does.

So what should the big brewers do? Don't target men, just target beer drinkers.

Nat West alluded to that approach when we ran our "bro cider" story in early March. The founder and owner of Portland-based Reverend Nat's Hard Cider just opened a brewery and tasting room in North Portland and has a line of ciders that ranges from potent, hoppy varieties to more winelike blends. They reward a discriminating palate but, like their cidermaker, they don't discriminate.

If someone who loves sweet wines and bitter beers can find a middle ground in cider, should it be a huge surprise that a growing number of U.S. drinkers are doing so as well? According to market research firm Symphony IRI, cider sales in the U.S. increased 81% by volume and 84% by revenue in 2012. Before that, it made up just 1% of the overall beer market. Last year, it was up 103% through November. That's better than the low double-digit percentage growth of craft beer during the same span and far better than the overall beer market, which has declined in four of the past five years.

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