Many observers believe this is further evidence of a bubble in the “craft” segment—the outrageous prices paid for breweries remind them of mortgages in 2007. Of course, that’s always possible. If the market flatlines tomorrow, Constellation will lose big on the deal. But consider: since 1990 or so, the overall beer market in the United States has remained a pretty steady 200 million barrels. (Per-capita beer consumption has declined, but the population keeps growing.) In 1990, pretty close to 100 percent of the market was mass market lagers. By 2015, the 200 million barrels of mass market lager had shrunk to about 175, and that drop-off curve gets steeper each year. They are currently hemorrhaging two or three million barrels a year, and if trends continue, that number will grow faster.
Big beer companies are well aware of these trends, and they’re asking themselves the same question: How much of the market 10 years from now will still be mass market lagers?