Drink Magazine

How (and Where) We Search for Beer – A Visual Guide

By Bryan Roth @bryandroth

search bar header sphereHidden within this recent story about states that drink the most beer is a great nugget about how people are searching for beer online.

Since it’s a Yahoo production, they offer up the top-10 searched beers through their search engine:

  1. Pabst Blue Ribbon
  2. Fosters
  3. Budweiser
  4. Corona
  5. Heiniekn
  6. Bud Light
  7. Dos Equis
  8. Miller
  9. Sam Adams
  10. Yuengling

This got me to thinking, if these are well-established, easily-known brands, what is it people are looking for? Even more head-scratching – searches for “Pabst Blue Ribbon” were 10-times higher on Yahoo than any other beer brand.

That’s a lot of curious hipsters performing online searches. But what are they searching for? Here are the most common search queries when it comes to the blue ribbon-winning brew via Yahoo:

pabst search results yahoo

OK, so nothing fancy except something to do with a coffin. But what about WHERE people are searching for Pabst? And what about other beer? That’s much more interesting.

Curious where all those Pabst searches are coming from? Maybe a hipster Mecca like Brooklyn or Seattle or San Francisco? … or Wisconsin? Here’s a Google Trend map showing searches for “Pabst Blue Ribbon” over the past year, with darker shading showing more searches:

Pabst Blue Ribbon google trend map last 12 mth

Wisconsin is special because that’s where Pabst was originally established and people can still tour its old facilities in Milwaukee. Otherwise, this map looks how you might expect. Lots of searches up and down the coasts with a hipster locale like Colorado (Denver/Boulder) pulling up lots of queries. Missouri and Minnesota stand out, but no big surprises.

Here’s a funny tidbit, though. Searching for “craft beer” on Google was nearly non-existant in the U.S. from January 2004 through December 2008. A Google Trend map looked like this every year during that four-year period, with color showing more searches. There is no color here:

craft beer google trend map 04-now - blank search

Then all of a sudden people started showing great interest in craft beer, starting with the Northeast. Massachusetts jumped on the bandwagon first (January to June 2009 time frame), then New York, then Pennsylvania and it grows from there with an explosion in January to June 2011 through today. In the animated GIF below, the bluer the state, the greater the number of searches for “craft beer”:

test craft beer on Make A Gif

Very interesting. I found it funny that Colorado didn’t get big hits on searching “craft beer” until 2012 much like several Mid-Atlantic states, including North Carolina.

Searches overall didn’t really pick up until 2009, but that’s understandable when looking at the number of craft breweries in the US. That figure takes a nice upswing in 2009:


Now we know that along with our tastes, our interest (and very well education) started taking a leap forward around that time. It should come as no surprise that 2009 was a banner year for the Cicerone program, beer’s answer to the sommelier. The first 18 Certified Cicerones were announced by the Cicerone Certification Program in 2009.

That led me further down the rabbit hole, making me curious how searches for beer styles have changed. You know what? Stereotypes seem to play well with our beer brethren when they go searching.

The IPA – arguably the flagship style of the craft beer movement – has seen monumental growth in interest in recent years. From the GIF below, you can see how searches for “IPA” started where you would expect on the West Coast, but has taken over the country. Google searches categorized below are for the first six months of each year and bluer means more searches:

test ipa on Make A Gif

I need to play fair, however, because there’s certainly an East Coast bias with another beer style – lager. Whether it’s Sam Adams’ Boston Lager, Brooklyn (Brewery) Lager or Yuengling, it’s clear where the East – and Northeast especially – hang their hat. This GIF represents Google searches for “lager” made during the first six months of each year:

test 1 on Make A Gif

So what does this all tell us? I suppose it’s something that we already knew – people aren’t just drinking more craft beer, but they’re more interested in it than ever. Here’s one last graph for you, showing the trend of searching for “craft beer” on Google:

craft beer line graph growth
That line keeps going up and up and even in Google’s forecasting of how searches will continue, it climbs ever higher.

There you have it. While it may seem odd that people’s online search behavior may not match up perfectly with word of mouth – I feel like talking about craft beer was taking off earlier than 2009/2010 – here’s the most important takeaway I see from all this:

These graphs represent the average beer drinker who may not know a lot about craft beer and they go online to learn. That means Joe or Jane America isn’t just more interested in drinking craft beer, they want to educate themselves, too.

I’ll raise a glass to that.

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac

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