When Wynwood Brewing launched 8 years ago, its management team thought that IPAs would emerge as the top-selling beer style at the Miami brewery. But according to vice president of marketing and sales Ian Salzberg, that isn’t the case at all. “La Rubia blonde ale accounts for the lion’s share of our volume,” he says. “Brewed with the South Florida heat in mind, La Rubia has more flavor than a light lager, but is still approachable. It’s shown consistent steady growth over the years.” He adds that once the pandemic subsides, Wynwood—now an Anheuser-Busch InBev (A-B InBev) subsidiary—is looking to expand La Rubia—currently limited to South Florida and Puerto Rico—to more markets, with an initial focus on the on-premise.
Indeed, blonde and golden ales are among the best-performing craft beer segments these days. According to Nielsen, off-premise dollar sales of blonde and golden ales for the 52 weeks ending December 26, 2020, surged 12%, outperforming total beer sales. While much of the segment’s volume comes from two brands—Kona Big Wave golden ale, marketed by A-B InBev’s Brewers Collective, and Firestone Walker Brewing’s 805 blonde ale—marketers and retailers note that the brews’ sessionability also contributes to its strong sales. “Blonde and golden ales are one of the fastest growing styles within craft beer for a reason,” says Kona’s senior director of marketing, Cindy Wang. “They’re versatile enough to appeal to a broader range of consumer tastes.” Cody Thornhill, beer category manager at the California-based Raley’s supermarket chain, adds that blonde and golden ales are doing well “due to their overall approachability and relative value when compared to other craft beers.”
First brewed in Hawaii, Kona Big Wave has been named an Impact “Hot Brand” for several years. In addition to the beer’s tropical and easy-to-drink attributes, Wang cites the strong media and marketing investment Big Wave receives around its “One life, right?” theme and increased distribution as key to its success. She notes that support will be even greater this year, and will include new creative that’s tied to surfing and World Oceans Day in June. Kona Big Wave also has a light offshoot, Kona Light.
805 Blonde, another Impact Hot Brand, is surging, according to Firestone Walker chief sales officer David Macon. Available in ten western states and Illinois, 805 is seeing particular gains in California convenience stores, where its 19.2-ounce can is the channel’s top-selling craft beer single, he says. Like Wang, Macon notes that ad support has contributed to 805’s popularity. “We were one of the first craft breweries with a taste for out-of-home and billboard advertising,” he explains. “Now we’ve moved really hard into social and digital advertising.”
Among other leading blonde ales is Deep Ellum Brewing’s Dallas Blonde, which is distributed throughout Texas and Oklahoma. At Biagio Wine & Spirits in Dallas, where Dallas Blonde ($11 a 6-pack of 12-ounce cans) leads the category, manager Williams Lovos notes that blonde ales compete for consumer attention with IPAs. But Tim Brack, co-owner of Jacksonville Beach, Florida beer bar Really Good Beer Stop, believes that consumer fatigue is pushing people toward the style. “Big stouts and super-hopped IPAs are leading them to take a flyer on lighter options,” he says. The bar strives to have at least one blonde ale on tap ($6 a 16-ounce pour) and 2-3 packaged products ($12 a 6- or 4-pack).
At Raley’s, Thornhill agrees that while blonde and golden ales are gaining ground—growing at a double-digit rate at the chain—they still face tough competition with IPAs. “IPAs are still the largest share of our overall beer business,” he says. Raley’s stocks about 40 blonde and golden ales, generally priced at $7 a 4- or 6-pack.
Future opportunity will likely be driven by the segment’s vast appeal, which crosses age groups and other demographic markers. For that reason, marketers of blonde and golden ales see a bright future for the beers. “These light and easy-drinking styles continue to appeal to a broad range of consumer tastes,” Wang says. “The sky’s the limit.”