Americans love beer and spend more than $100 billion on it annually. However, in the past few years, consumption has gone from larger domestic beers to smaller craft beers. Who's spurring the change? Millennials​ are suspected.

The Unique Mindset of the Millennial

Millennials are typically defined as those born in the early 1980s through the early 2000s. Thy're individuals who have grown up with the Internet, cell phones and digital cameras. Most are old enough to remember life before these changes, but many couldn’t imagine life without them.

What really separates Millennials from previous generations, however, is their mindset on how to tackle new obstacles. The Millennial, it turns out, strives for independence of ideas rather than time-tested ones.

For instance, a Generation Xer who wants to buy a car may ask his parents where they bought their last car or which dealership they prefer. The Millennial, on the other hand, wants to break away from that traditional approach and take one of her own. She wants to find a highly rated dealer or connected to them, such as through a friend in the industry. 

Why Millennials Love Craft Beer

In beer commercials from 15 or 20 years ago, you'd see people playing beach volleyball with a cooler full of Coors or Bud Light nearby. The suggestion was that big name breweries give you something to drink while you do something else.

As the beer market changed, Millennials began focusing on flavor, character, and brewing process. Besides sitting together and watching football with a beer in hand, they also gather and talk about the beer they're drinking. But there are more factors for this shift.

Price. The costs of beer, across the board, have gone up. Your “cheap” beers aren’t quite as cheap anymore. So, when you have the option to buy a six-pack of low flavor, mass-produced beer or to spend an extra dollar or two for a quality craft beer, many lean toward the crafts. (See also Beeronomics: Factors Affecting Your Pint.)

Identity. Millennials love to brand their own identity. Rather than go with the masses and say that Bud Light, Michelob or Coors is their beer of choice, they choose a smaller craft style that they feel better represents them.

Peer Pressure. Some of it simply boils down to the fact that “everyone else” is drinking craft beers, an idea that goes against the independence theory. But social media has a huge influence on what we like and do, and with apps such as Untappd and Pintley (which track your beer drinking and give recommendations on what else you should drink), young people have the option to brag about the beers they've consumed (that nobody else has). (See also How Millenials Use Tech & Social Media To Invest.)

The Bottom Line

In 2010 craft beer represented about 5% of the overall beer market. As sales declined for the large breweries, the craft beer market actually improved so that, by 2014, craft beers were capturing 11% of the market. In about 10 years the last of the Millennials will be turning 21 and able to consume (legally) their beers of choice. We can reasonably expect that craft beer will continue to grow in popularity during those 10 years and perhaps into the future as well.