In my youth, canned beer was king, though there was the one guy on the block whose recycling buckets were always overflowing with empty Rolling Rock bottles. But then came the craft beer revolution of the ’90s and slowly but surely cans gave way to bottles and draft beer. For seven years starting in 2002, bottled and draft beers equaled or outpaced the canned stuff in the U.S., but ever since the economy took a nose dive, a growing number of Americans have been cracking open cold cans for their beer-based refreshment.
Using numbers from the U.S. Beer Institute (which keeps turning down my application for a research fellowship), Bloomberg News charted the battle of the bottle for the last three decades.
Canned beer consumption reached its peak in 1991, with bottled and draft beers having remained essentially flat at around 35%.
But in only four years, the slew of new, small, independent brewers resulted in a nearly 10% surge in the drinking of bottled and draft beer, while canned beer took a 7% nosedive during the same time period from 1991 to 1995.
These opposing trends continued for more than a decade, with the two lines intersecting in 2002. After that, bottles and kegs dominated the market, while hipsters kept the canned beer market alive by ironically drinking the cheap beer that had been treated with disregard since the mid-90s.
Then the economy skunked in 2008, and suddenly people began opting for cans once more. That year, the two categories were once again equal, and since 2009 canned beer has become the majority choice.
Last year, canned beer was back up to 53% of the market, the same percentage it enjoyed back in 1981.
“I might not be able to take vacations and spend money on big-priced items,” says Charlie Papazian, president of the Brewers Association, tells Bloomberg about consumers’ current mindset. “Beer has a much better return or value.”
He says that the recession has seen people turning to both “below-premium budget beers and the high-end craft beers.”
Also, some higher-end brewers have begun putting their product in cans, which have historically been frowned upon by beer snobs.
However, per the Beer Institute, suds sipping in general is down about 7% since 2007, with the average American [adult, we assume] drinking 162 pints of beer in 2011.