NEW YORK (MainStreet) – There are a whole lot of holiday beers out there, but winter variety packs make it easy to sample all of the.
One of the beer industry's finest holiday traditions, especially among its established smaller brewers, is offering a cost-effective 12-pack of seasonal varieties just as shoppers stock up for holiday parties. It creates a nice holiday shelf display and some added interest for breweries during what is typically their low season, and it offers buyers some options for guests who might be lukewarm on a whole lot of any one particular beer. As a gateway to company's beer, however, it's also fairly cheap.
The Beer Institute, a beer industry organization based in Washington, put the price of an average six-pack at $5.05. Domestics fetch a little less at $4.95 and imports charge far more at $6.88, but those prices will vary depending on the taxes in each state. When Samuel Adams lets its “Winter Classics” 12-pack go for $14 – the going price at national wine and beer chain Total Wine — it's still in the high end at $7 per six-pack, but it's creating one of the least expensive avenues for enjoying a holiday beer in the current marketplace.
According to market research firm Symphony IRI, craft beer usually fetches an average $35 a case. That trumps the $29 brought in by imports and the $20 a case for premium domestic beers such as Anheuser-Busch InBev's (BUD) Budweiser and MolsonCoors' (TAP) Coors Light.
At the equivalent of $28 a case, Sam Adams' 12-pack is still a 40% premium over a case of Bud, but comes in under the price a consumer would have to pay for more costly trial sizes. If Old Fezziwig was available on tap at your local pub for $5 a pint, you'd be paying the equivalent of $48 per 12-pack. Boston Beer makes 22-ounce “bomber” bottles of a gingerbread-flavored winter seasonal called Merry Maker that, if you somehow picked it up for $6, costs the equivalent of $40 per 12-pack.
The variety pack is a relative steal by comparison, and the whole industry knows it. It's why Saranac, Magic Hat, Harpoon, Summit, Pyramid, Blue Point, New Belgium and the Craft Brew Alliance (BREW) – with holiday beers from its Widmer Brothers, Redhook and Kona brands – and a whole bunch of other breweries will offer them up for between $14 and $20 this year. It's also why big brewers wanting a piece of small brewers' holiday fun have begun brewing up 12-packs of their own.
Blue Moon and Leinenkugel, both owned by SABMiller and MolsonCoors joint venture MillerCoors and its 10th and Blake Subsidiary, have each produced a 12-pack of winter seasonal beers this year. Blue Moon is throwing in an Abbey Ale and Gingerbread Spiced Ale to join its standard Belgian White, while Leinenkugel throws a Winter's Bite Black Lager into its Winter Explorer pack with Cranberry Ginger Shandy and Snowdrift Vanilla Porter.
It's tough to blame them. According to Symphony, sales of seasonal beers have risen between 15% and 25% in recent years, with much of that growth coming from craft brewers. According to the Brewers Association craft beer industry group, there are more than 3,000 breweries operating in the United States today, with more on the way. The Brewers Association gives those small brewers credit for increasing sales of “craft” beer 17.2% by volume and 20% in dollars in 2013 as overall beer sales dropped 1.9%. That gave those small brewers 7.8% of all beer sales volume and 14.3% of its income last year.
By comparison, MillerCoors' production dropped 3% and has fallen steadily since the last recession. Blue Moon has been one of the company's few bright spots during the past few years, but even its growth has slowed from 26% in 2010 to 6% last year. Still, it produced 2 million barrels last year – which would make it the third-largest craft brewer in the U.S. if it was considered such – and outpaced the 2.3% loss of regional brewer and holiday 12-pack maker D.G. Yuengling & Sons during the same period.
To give you some idea of what they're up against, we're offering the following five 12 -packs as examples of what craft brewers are putting out there this year. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so please shout out your favorites if we've missed them: