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Six Pack: Beer Buzz of the Week

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Six things that have consumers buzzing in the world of beer, wine and spirits as we head into the weekend:

1. Drinking With Merriam-Webster: F-Bombs and Craft Beer: In recent years, craft beer has grown from the domain of beer geeks to become a consumer staple. This year, the folks at Merriam-Webster Dictionary have taken notice. Craft beer is one of the new words being incorporated into their 2012 edition. Merriam-Webster defines craft beer as: “a specialty beer produced in limited quantities.” Another word joining the modern lexicon: “F-Bomb.” Maybe “Hop Bomb” is in line for 2013.

2. First the Dictionary, Then ... the World: Craft Beer may be in the dictionary, but if there is one word that defines the state of craft beer in 2012, it's "expansion." This week saw Narragansett Brewing expanding to Wisconsin. This marks the first time Narragansett will be available beyond the East Coast. The No. 3 craft brewer, New Belgium Brewing, is expanding into Michigan. The announcement follows numerous examples of craft brewers increasing their geographic footprint this year including Sierra Nevada, New Belgium and Oskar Blues all undertaking expansion projects in North Carolina. (For more:Sierra Nevada Founder Talks Craft Beer: Past, Present, Future; North Carolina Crafts a New Beer City, USA)

3. Exploding Beer Kegs: Has Cost-Cutting Gone Too Far?: With over 2,000 breweries operating in the U.S. and more on the way, the competition in the craft beer industry is fierce with tight budgets and lean bottom lines. Plastic kegs have been used by many in the industry in a way to reduce costs over the more expensive metal kegs. But now, as detailed on brewing industry site Brewbound.com, the safety of plastic kegs is being called into question by some in the craft beer industry. The concerns follow in the wake of reports of plastic kegs exploding and the recent death of a Redhook Brewery employee due to an exploding keg.

4. Heineken Hops Onto U.S. Cider Bandwagon: Cider is one of the hottest trends in the alcohol market and Heineken USA is getting into the space after taking over as the U.S. distributor of Strongbow Cider, the second–best selling cider in the U.S. Strongbow joins other well-known Heineken USA brands including Heineken, Dos Equis, Newcastle and Amstel Light. Strongbow gives Heineken USA entrée into the fast growing U.S. cider market which grew 20 percent in 2011 according to The Beer Institute. Parent company Dutch-based Heineken N.V. already claims 25 percent of the global cider market with products available in 20 markets.

5. The Great Pumpkin Arrives Early: Seasonal beers are a growing part of the beer market, especially popular fall seasonals, which include the ubiquitous pumpkin beer. Many consumers on blogs and social media have been questioning the seemingly early arrival pumpkin beers this season and now N.J.-based Hunterdon Distributors has the numbers to back it up. Hunterdon says July pumpkin beer shipments are up 44 percent over July 2011. Consumers may question the early arrival but it isn’t stopping them from snapping them up. “The growth of pumpkin beers continues to increase year after year and shows no signs of slowing down,” says Hunterdon owner Michael Short. “Each year we are not only ordering larger quantities, but are also looking for new styles being introduced by our suppliers.”

6. Finally, a Poll You Can Drink to: Beer or Wine?: If you’ve read this far into the Six Pack, you’re likely among the 66 percent of Americans that say they consume alcohol. That comes from the latest Gallup poll which has consumers averaging four drinks per week and beer edging out wine 39 percent to 35 percent as drinkers' beverage of choice.

Questions? Comments? Email us at consumernation@cnbc.com. Follow Tom Rotunno on Twitter @tomrotunno.

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