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Check out Part 1, of this 3-part series, which discusses Beer Singles-By-Style, Consumers, Pilot Test, Beer Singles = Experimentation, and Fizzy Yellow Beer.

OrangeJuice_choicesTOO MANY CHOICES

Scientific studies show that when consumers are presented with too many choices, they often end up making poor choices or no choice at all, or they simply default to an old familiar choice. No experimentation or discovery takes place, even among the wide array of choices. That’s such a shame!

Brewer innovation is breeding lots of choices, but is that ultimately bad for craft beer if there are too many choices for customers?  An article discussing this subject and citing such studies appeared in The New Brewer magazine (a BA publication).

An innovative beer retailer doesn’t say, “Stop. No more Beer!” It is incumbent upon the retailer who offers consumers a lot of choices to help break down and categorize the products into meaningful groups. This provides customers approachable starting points and an opportunity to focus on smaller bites of the pie, within which decisions can be made.

A beer style group arrangement, done strategically in an environment conducive to it such as Total Wine, is an effective way to achieve this, as there are plentiful yet manageable choices within meaningful style groupings.


Women drinking craft beerConsumer studies also find that women make or influence ~80% of all purchases in the United States. Do women buy beer? YES, more than is generally realized, and Total Wine is paying attention to this. Unlike most men who shop for beer primarily only for themselves (admit it, guys!), women buy beer for others: their friends, boyfriend, husband, brothers, father, as gifts, for parties/social events, and yes, quite often for themselves. Most women prefer meaningful organization of items when they shop. Women know how to shop and they like organization. That is not sexist. It is simple fact. (A clearance bin mish-mash with killer-low prices may be an acceptable exception).

Total Wine store Team Members have many interactions assisting women shoppers who are buying beer for someone else. As with many male shoppers, the extent of knowledge for some of these women shoppers is that the person “likes IPAs” (they may not even know what IPA means. Kudos to them for admitting it and seeking help … men generally do not do that). When shown the style set and it is explained to them, “All of the IPAs are together on these 5 shelves,” often, their eyes light up as if they’ve been given the key to shopping success; they become comfortable and go about reading the shelf talkers, looking at labels, and selecting different bottles. They love it and feel confident and proud about being able to shop, make their selections and make the purchase.  Often times, women come in for one custom 6-pack, and they end up buying two! It has been our experience that women, by and large, really enjoy and appreciate the beer singles set in style groupings.


Roughly 35 years ago wine awareness and sales began to grow in the United States concurrent with word being spread that wine is a great accompaniment to food. There were wine dinners. Restaurants began expanding wine lists. There was a movement to educate Americans on wine, to teach that there is more than just “red”, “white”, and “blush” and that there existed more than just “macro” jug wine. Americans were being introduced to discovering different wine varietals, and they grew to know which one(s) they liked. People began feeling more empowered with wine knowledge, and wine – higher quality wine — started selling big. Through it, customers discovered wines from certain brands they liked, returning to buy more.

Rhetorical question: Was that bad for the wine industry?

Beer Dinner Beer vs. Wine Menu“Wine-ifying beer” has been used in a vilifying tone, yet in its most basic and positive form it means trying to educate more people on Craft beer. Who started it and who’s doing it? Answer: smart Craft breweries. How? For one thing, they’ve taken a page from the wine industry and sponsored and hosted beer dinners, during which they espouse beer having a place on the dinner table with or instead of wine. This means beer and food pairings, but not any beer; craft beer, like wine but unlike macro beer, is about different FLAVORS.

We’ve learned beers of certain styles tend to go well with certain foods/dishes. For beer dinners brewers select from their portfolio specific beers of specific styles or flavor characteristics to go with the various courses of the meal. AND, to ensure beer shows well vs. wine in the pairing, brewers feature select “guest beers” from friend-competitor craft breweries in order to get the style needed to make the ideal pairing (perhaps they don’t brew it, or don’t have the right match). They feature competitor craft beers?! “Rising tide lifts all ships.” Yet the cream rises to the top.

Additional nods to wine by craft beer can even be found on beer labels with words such as “harvest”, “estate”, “Grand Cru”, “vintage”, clever iterations of “terroir” and “chateau”, and others that are clearly co-opted from wine lexicon.  Sommelier would have likely been co-opted for beer service expertise had Cicerone® not been introduced.


Pizzeria Paradiso menu, Washington, D.C.

Pizzeria Paradiso menu, Washington, D.C.

The top beer establishments near Total Wine’s home office in metro Washington, D.C. have great food and world class beer lists. These expansive lists, with up to 500 bottles plus draughts and casks, present the beers by beer style groupings, not by brand. Progressive Beer Directors list beers this way for multiple reasons, including:

1. Customers need a way to break down the expansive list into meaningful, approachable segments. An alpha list by brewery isn’t effective since most customers are relatively new to craft beer. The list may thrill the geeky-ist of beer geeks, but it must be useable by the other 80%-90% of customers who aren’t so beer savvy.

2. Customers can find a style/flavor range and self-select a flight of beers, or choose beers from multiple styles for a flight.

3. Good craft beer pairs well with food, but for specific foods it isn’t just any beer (we learned this from brewery-sponsored beer dinners).

4. It provides service personnel a starting point to assist customers: “What flavors do you like?” “What are you eating?” Servers can then make recommendations referencing the style groupings, helping customers narrow down the selections. The huge list of beers becomes scalable for customers, who can be a part of the process by choosing themselves and not having to rely on the server to choose.

Allowing customers to focus on general flavor profiles adds an educational component to it as well. It’s about what’s desirable to the palate based on the occasion and/or what’s being ordered to eat.

An approach that is appropriate for on-premise retailers with extensive beer portfolios selling beer by bottle and draught is also appropriate for off-premise specialty retailers with extensive beer portfolios selling beer by the bottle. The customer’s advantage at Total Wine is we offer beer to them both ways — by brand and by style; with our 6-packs by brand and singles by style offering a cross reference library of beer.


women_and_beerConsumer beer knowledge is key to craft beer growth, and we believe breweries, distributors and retailers all have a stake in educating consumers on beer. Beer education is a serious endeavor at Total Wine & More; we offer beer education and tasting classes in our 50+ stores that have classrooms, and we wrote and published a comprehensive 200 page educational beer book, called Total Guide to Beer, that’s available for FREE in our stores (and digitally for free via iTunes at http://bit.ly/iTunesTotalGuideToBeer).

Total Guide to Beer 2013 EditionThis book is full of informative beer style information and lots more including beer history, ingredients, brewing process, food pairings, glassware, tasting process, serving temperature recommendations, and more. With 800,000 copies in print and over 10,000 downloads, this was a large $$Dollar investment by Total Wine for consumer beer education. We did it because we know that customers who know more about beer will be more likely to try craft beer.

Teaching consumers about beer styles is important and the book groups the 90+ individual beer styles described into the meaningful style categories customers find in our craft beer singles arrangement in our stores: Lagers, Wheat Ale, Blonde & Golden Ale, Pale Ale & IPA, Amber/Red Ale, Strong Ale & Barley Wine, Brown Ale, Porter, Stout, American Belgian-styles, and Specialty/Hybrid/other.

Craft brewer innovation is complemented by beer style and flavor groupings on store shelves and restaurant beer lists. In fact they can lead customers to more quickly discover the breadth of style interpretation and innovation across breweries. A parallel can be drawn to the annual Great American Beer Festival and World Beer Cup awards, where beers are judged within style, and as brewers create new beers, new styles are identified and the beers are judged within them. Brands compete in these professionally judged contests and in our stores on the merits of their liquid beer, and the cash-holding consumer is always the ultimate judge.

Check out Part 3 of this 3-part series which discusses Getting Beer Styles Right, The Novices and the Savvy (Geeks), Win-Win-Win-Win, and Finally.

rob_hill_photoRob Hill, Certified Cicerone®
Author of Total Guide to Beer
New Programs Manager, Customer Experience
Total Wine & More
Twitter: @TWMBeer