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Heady Topper taps changing tastes

News, 20 May 2016

NEW YORK: Drinking habits have undergone a profound "sea change" that large brewers will find difficult to overcome, according to the co-founder of Heady Topper, the iconic craft beer.

John Kimmich created Heady Topper – which has been called the "World's Most Sought-After Beer" – alongside his wife. And the revered product is only sold in stores and restaurants near their production site in Waterbury, Vermont.

Speaking at BRITE '16, a conference held at Columbia Business School's Center on Global Brand Leadership, Kimmich argued the craft beer movement has gradually caused consumer habits to evolve.

"I see it as a sea change. Since craft beer first came onto the scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s, it has done nothing but climb," he said. (For more, including further insights into the craft movement, read Warc's exclusive report: Heady Topper brews up a craft beer revolution.)

"It has been a long, hard road to readjust people's palates to what we now create. But now that it is out there, and we've done all that groundwork, the sky is the limit."

Further numerical corroboration for this claim involves the fact that 44% of 21–27-year-olds in America have never tried Budweiser.

And, for Kimmich, such trends are partly a reaction to the failings of major manufacturers that "streamlined everything … to the point where they think everybody is going to like it", and so maximised potential sales.

"It's not just delivering alcohol to your bloodstream," he continued. "You want to be able to sit down, and take the time, and slow down."

Big players have tried to respond, with MillerCoors rolling out Blue Moon – a highly successful product, but one often accused of being too large to be truly "craft", and which indicates the hurdles in front of major multi-brand brewers.

"They've lost the legitimacy to brew and to market craft beer," Kimmich said in describing the challenge facing the big brewing groups. "It's a tricky thing for them to do."

Attempts to buy craft brewers have also seen mixed results. "They are grabbing large craft brewers, which is fine, but craft brewing as a whole isn't being driven by these large craft brewers. It's being driven by the little guys," he added.

Data sourced from Warc