American's taste for beer has historically leaned to the lighter side, with lagers taking over the country in the 19th century in a trend that has continued to the even lighter American staples such as Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon that hold a majority of the market to this day.
But craft beer, whose sales grew 22 percent to $19.6 billion in 2014 and continued a four-year streak of double digit growth, is driving a sea change in American palates with heavier doses of alcohol.
"As craft beer was growing, it seemed that ABV (alcohol by volume) grew with it," said Justin Dolezal, beer buyer for Buzz Wine Beer Shop in downtown Los Angeles.
Consumer research group Mintel found that the amount of beers released with more than 6.5 percent alcohol by volume increased by 319 percent in North America from 2011 to 2014, with 46 percent of new beer releases falling into this category. The average alcohol content of craft beer is 5.9 percent A.B.V.
And the real heavyweights, beers with over 8 percent ABV, also saw a noticeable uptick in 2013 and 2014. Across the globe, those beers made up 12.9 and 11.7 percent of new releases during each of those years, respectively, after only making up 7.4 percent of new releases in 2012 and 6.2 percent in 2011.
"Drinkers today have more sophisticated palates than drinkers generally did years ago and they're constantly looking to explore unique, high-quality beers," said Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Co., the entity behind Samuel Adams.
And more breweries are rushing to compete by putting out their own high-alcohol craft beers, for which they can charge a premium price, nearly as much for 750 milliliter bottle as they charge for a six-pack of regular craft beer. It doesn't hurt, too, that the heavier beers have a longer shelf life.