“If you called me right now and said, ‘Hey man, I want to do a collaboration,’ I’d say, ‘Okay cool, what are we doing that’s over 8% [ABV]?’”
John Gillooly, brewmaster at Drake’s Brewing Co. in San Leandro, California, isn’t speaking hypothetically. While preparing for a recent collaboration with Santa Rosa, California’s HenHouse Brewing Company, he and his counterpart at HenHouse didn’t even discuss any beer recipes under 7%. They decided on an 8.1% Double IPA they called Early Birds.
“It’s got to be something strong, that’s what people want,” Gillooly says.Contrary to media attention around better-for-you, low-calorie and “lifestyle” beers, American consumers drink a lot of Double IPAs. According to Nielsen, dollar sales for Double IPAs brewed by Brewers Association-defined craft breweries grew +8.7% in 2019, second only to Hazy IPAs in terms of growth. The style had been gaining momentum pre-COVID, and as focus shifts to at-home consumption, breweries of all sizes are seeing a surge in demand for their biggest, booziest IPAs.
Drizly, an alcohol ecommerce platform, reports sales of Imperial and Double IPAs have increased +512% year-over-year as of early October, well ahead of Drizly’s baseline growth of +350% in 2020. The average price of a DIPA six-pack on Drizly is $13.18, more than a dollar more than the average IPA six-pack—but drinkers are willing to pay more for the higher alcohol content. Even at a premium price, these higher-ABV beers deliver bang for the buck.
Breweries are recognizing the value of the DIPA category, and that the style can appeal to more than just a niche, beer-geek audience. There’s been ample opportunity to grow sales of these beers, an opportunity accelerated by the shift to at-home drinking. Double IPAs are, of course, not a new creation. They’ve been brewed for decades, but recently, they’ve grown beyond their taproom confines, and have continued to move into year-round, flagship territory for nationally distributed breweries. In 2020, a number of breweries around the country have announced new, year-round DIPAs, including Asheville, North Carolina’s Hi-Wire Brewing (Double Hi-Pitch IPA, 9% ABV); Nampa, Idaho’s Mother Earth Brewing Company (Hop Diggity DIPA, 8.2% ABV); Longmont, Colorado’s Oskar Blues Brewery (Can-O-Bliss Double IPA, 8.2%); and Bend, Oregon’s Deschutes Brewery (Royal Fresh Imperial IPA, 9% ABV). Paso Robles, California’s Firestone Walker Brewing Company will release Mind Haze Double IPA (8.3% ABV) in March 2021.
Breweries like New Belgium Brewing Co., Stone Brewing, Dogfish Head Craft Brewery, and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. have proven there’s major success to be had for DIPAs in grocery stores and other chain retailers. Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA is New Belgium’s best-selling beer, having overtaken the flagship Fat Tire Amber Ale for that title within the last six months. A shift to at-home drinking during the pandemic has only boosted its momentum; Voodoo Ranger Imperial IPA’s sales in grocery, convenience, liquor, and other chain stores, as tracked by market research company IRI, are up +85% for the first three quarters of 2020 versus the same time a year ago.
New Belgium doubled down on that success with its newest rotating IPA in the Voodoo Ranger line, an 8.5% Hazy Imperial IPA called Higher Plane that debuted in September. Dave Knospe, New Belgium’s senior brand manager for Voodoo Ranger, says the thinking behind Higher Plane was simple: Combine beer’s two fastest-growing styles, Double IPAs and Hazy IPAs, and “make one on a national scale.”
That mirrored the thinking behind Sierra Nevada’s 9% ABV Fantastic Haze DIPA, which launched in January. By the end of August, it had already tallied $4.7 million in sales at grocery, convenience, liquor, and other chain stores, as tracked by market research company IRI. Those sales are roughly the same as Goose Island Beer Company’s Next Coast IPA or Breckenridge Brewery’s Vanilla Porter.
Big Little Thing, the newest extension for Sierra Nevada’s Little Thing line (which also includes the highly successful Hazy Little Thing IPA and Wild Little Thing fruited Sour Ale), will launch in December. Sierra Nevada doesn’t believe having two 9% DIPAs in the same brand family is redundant; the brewery touts Big Little Thing as a non-hazy, but still intensely hopped, alternative to Fantastic Haze.
Sierra Nevada’s communications director, Robin Wilkey-Gregory, says Big Little Thing is a beer that’s not aiming only for hopheads but the “everyday consumer.” This appeal to casual drinkers is notable for a beer style that’s historically been the province of self-described “beer geeks.” It’s also a sharp contrast to the conventional narrative that drinkers are primarily seeking low-calorie, sessionable beers. Double IPAs still appeal to their core fans, but have expanded their reach to include grocery store shoppers of varied demographics.
Consequently, Big Little Thing’s price point will target a more budget-minded consumer than Fantastic Haze: While Fantastic Haze’s suggested retail price is $12.99 per 12oz six-pack, a six-pack of Big Little Thing (9% ABV) should be priced at $10.99. It’s notable that Fantastic Haze (9% ABV) hasn’t cannibalized sales of Hop Bullet Double IPA (8% ABV), another year-round beer in Sierra Nevada’s portfolio. That beer’s sales in grocery, convenience, liquor, and other chain stores have grown +11.4% for the 52-week period ending October 4 compared to the same period a year prior.
In 2020, an 8% or 9% ABV Imperial IPA is effectively mainstream.
But it’s not just large breweries seeing gains for DIPAs.
Shelburne, Vermont’s Fiddlehead Brewing Company, which expects to produce 32,000 barrels of beer in 2020, is in the midst of a 25,000-square-foot, $6 million expansion financed mainly by sales of its core IPA and its DIPA, Second Fiddle. That DIPA brought in $3.3 million in IRI-tracked sales in grocery, convenience, liquor, and other chain stores for the 52-week period ending Oct. 4, a +26% increase from the same period a year prior. Though its beers once sold only in Vermont, with lines for its taproom releases snaking hundreds of people deep, Fiddlehead now plans to launch 12-packs of its DIPAs for distribution across New England, New York, and New Jersey in 2022.
Portland, Maine’s Lone Pine Brewing Company produced 13,000 BBLs of beer last year, and since then, the brewery has added distribution in new states to the tune of 1,530 new points of sale. That partially explains the +462% growth it’s seen for Oh-J DIPA; but even the brewery’s other DIPAs that rarely hit out-of-state distribution—Tessellation, Diamond Unicorn, Chaos Emeralds—have grown sales organically. Overall, Lone Pine’s DIPAs are up just shy of +65% year over year.
Drake’s, which brewed 49,000 BBLs of beer last year, also has a high-ABV success on its hands with Denogginizer DIPA, whose sales jumped +36% year to date. The beer made up 27% of the brewery’s total production in 2019, climbed to 36% in January 2020, and represented more than 40% of total production in March. Drake’s now sells nearly twice as much Denogginizer—which is 9.75% ABV—as it does its second-best-seller, Best Coast IPA (7% ABV). It’s especially ironic for a brewery that has hosted a Session Beer Festival seven years in a row.