The Spectacle Blog

The Beer Spectator: Starbucks Rises on a Wave of Craft Beer

By on 5.16.14 | 3:24PM

Starbucks is expanding its “Evening Stores” across the United States, aiming to open fourteen more by the end of 2014. This would bring the total number up to forty.

The Fortune 500 company is floating to the top on a wave of craft beer.  

The evening concept seeks to reshape Starbucks’ reputation as only a place to buy a morning coffee. To distinguish itself from fast food restaurants such as McDonald’s and Dunkin Donuts, the coffee giant will be offering beer, wine, and new menu items from mid-afternoon into the night at select locations.

Rumors swirl that Starbucks will offer local craft brews, as opposed to mass-produced beers from companies like MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev. 

Starbucks wishes to keep its customers at the stores for longer periods of time, following a “coffee bar” trend that is popular in urban locales. Tryst in Washington, D.C. and Milkboy in Philadelphia exemplify the business plan.

The popularity of such places with younger demographics attests to Starbucks' innovation. But can a huge national corporation that shuns franchising duplicate the local flavor of independent bars and coffee shops?

Starbucks is going to try by offering craft beers. Though craft breweries are greatly expanding in the United States, their products themselves only comprise 7.8 percent of total beer volume.  

If Starbucks can sell local beers in all of their stores, a great logistical feat, brewers everywhere will enjoy increased popularity. Whole Foods already sells local beers and wines at many of their stores, but Starbucks has a wider demographic.

On the other hand, it’s only a matter of time before the “traditional” brewers, along with the largest craft beer-makers including the Boston Beer Company and Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, lobby to offer their own products in Starbucks across the nation. If that were to happen, smaller local brewers would be in the same position as they are now.

After all, it makes more sense for Starbucks to consolidate its supply channels. Why not pick a few different beers to offer nationwide, rather than allowing its initial forty stores to decide based on region?

Granted, the community aspect is what makes the idea special. I am cautiously optimistic at this point.

If the idea is implemented as I expect, which company is next? Will airlines finally provide more craft beer on select flights? Jet Blue could offer beers from New York, while Southwest can sell Shiner seasonals.

Or how about Domino’s pizza? There are probably legal ramifications for delivering alcohol, but what better combination is there than beer and pizza?

Starbucks is helping to bring craft beer further into the mainstream, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. 

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