That's why I wrote this piece in Ale Street News, called "An End of Empire?" Here's the heart of it:
Big beers inevitably cost more, and as layoffs domino through the economy, there are fewer dedicated followers with the money to buy them. But still they get bought, because the hype on imperials is reaching into the mainstream, and trendy consumers are willing to pay wine prices for them – for now. One example: Samuel Adams Double Bock was about $8 for a six-pack, a very reasonable price. The new, bigger Imperial Double Bock, part of the Samuel Adams “Imperial Series,” is $10 – for a four-pack, an increase of 80 percent. Beer enthusiasts are getting vocal about prices they think are gouging them.
It isn’t just price, either. With the sale of A-B to InBev, craft brewers are thinking about how to capitalize on their status as true American-owned breweries, and it’s a snap that most Americans don’t want anything imperial. The most common complaint about craft beers is that they have “too much flavor.” Brewers are making the adjustment. Full Sail is doing well with its Session Lager, Harpoon’s booming along with their American hefe, UFO. They’re smelling opportunity, and it’s not in another small-batch, high-end imperial whatzit.
Beer drinkers may be sensing it, too. Here in Philly, Tom “Heavyweight” Baker’s new brewpub, Earth Bread + Brewery, is successfully selling two out of four taps at under 4%, and Yards Brawler, at 4.2%, is seeing a lot of interest and attention. Scott Smith’s East End Brewing in Pittsburgh has a line of Session Ales that have been consistent sell-outs, interesting and drinkable. It’s quiet — no dance music — but it’s happening.
We'll see what happens. I just got word of a major session beer event...and I don't think it's going to be the only one this year.