Are Craft Beer Bombers Going Extinct?

What’s happened to craft beer bombers? Why are large-format beers collecting dust on shelves?

Just a few years back they were the primary means of packaging premium brews. Craft fans hanging out would all bring bombers to share. Or they’d buy these 22-ounce bottles to indulge in by themselves.

All of which still happens, of course. But at a seemingly declining rate. Bombers that used to sell well now sit on shelves for longer periods of time before being bought — if at all.

“I don’t want to say that bombers are dead, but they’re definitely on that cusp,” says Chris Ciskey, owner of Yankee Wine & Spirits in Newtown, CT. His store boasts a big, diverse craft beer section. “Even the new and unique stuff that comes out in bombers really lags.”

Instead, customers and brewers are both turning to the 4-pack of 12-oz. bottles for premium brews.

“Which is very appealing to the consumer, because a 12-oz. bottle is easy to drink by yourself in one sitting,” says Zach Gaddis of Staples Corner Liquors in Crofton, MD. “Where with the large-format bottle you have essentially two beers that you have to yourself. So if you don’t have a significant other that likes beer, or a friend over, you might be wasting some beer.”

Breweries have noticed and adjusted. “We saw consistent sales for our 22’s but more people are looking for cans, so we pivoted to put our big beers like Pulled Porter (and others to come) in big cans,” says Tucker Berta Sarkisian, director of public relations for SweetWater Brewing Company. “They’re easier to drink solo, or grab a four-pack and share with some buddies

Consumers feel less beholden to the beer in the 4-pack. And these bottles can be purchased individually, or as part of a premium mix-pack. All of which plays into the “drinking ADD” of modern consumers, Ciskey says. “Some people now just have to try everything.”

Many beers that once came in bombers now also (or only) appear in 4-packs — or even 6-packs of cans. These include former large-format releases from trendsetting breweries like SweetWater, Dogfish Head, Southern Tier, Lagunitas and Foley Brothers.

But bombers from those and other name-brand breweries can still sell decently enough, Gaddis says. As do bombers from breweries that only release specialty beers in large format, like Clown Shoes and The Bruery. These beers tend to be very funky or sour — or heavy, barrel-aged stouts. Rarely do IPAs appear in bombers anymore.

While he believes the market is shifting away from 22’s, Gaddis thinks “there will always be a need for the larger bottle. Simply so a brewery can make something to showcase what makes them unique. Which is the only reason that the consumer is buying that big bottle. They can get something exclusive.”

Kyle Swartz is managing editor of Beverage Dynamics magazine. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com. Read his recent piece on 6 Craft Beer Stats To Watch in 2017.

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