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3 Chicago Alcohol Trends to Watch in 2020

  • by: Ryan Philemon
  • On: 18, Feb 2020
21 min read

Now that 2019 is officially behind us we can look towards the trends that will shape the alcohol space in the on-premise. Over recent years, the choices Chicagoans make when imbibing at bars and restaurants have drastically changed. The glory days of Old Style and room temperature vodka shots are long gone. 

In 2020, Chicago citizens crave low calorie options, are passionate about supporting local brands, and have refined their pallets to appreciate the sophistication of spirits.

Based on order data from 2019, here are Chicago’s on-premise alcohol trends to watch in 2020.

Hard Seltzer Will Continue It’s Take-Over

This new, bubbly, and dangerously easy to drink alcoholic beverage took the on-premise by storm last year. Weekend warriors everywhere were crushing these low-calorie drinks at such a rate that there were shortages nation-wide. What was thought to be a trend that would die out in winter months has continued to gain popularity and its growth has no end in sight in 2020.

Everyone from Natural Light to Oskar Blues hopped on the bandwagon. And well, can you really blame them? The style's share of beer volume increased by more than 900% in 2019 when compared to the previous year. It may just be a coincidence, but some have even correlated light beer’s decline in 2019 with Hard Seltzer's explosive growth.

But which brand is the top performer in Chicago? White Claw took the lead in 2019, ending the year with 76.82% share of  Hard Seltzer volume. The brand grew by over 300% last year and knocked Truly out of the top spot from 2018.

Whiskey Will Give Vodka a Run for its Money

While 2019 was the year for Hard Seltzer. It was the year of demise for Vodka. While the category still remains the market's top performer, it is on the decline with a -9% year-over-year (YoY) growth in share. Interestingly enough, the category's top brand also had a tough year, as well. Tito's share of vodka volume declined by -17% last year. The downward trajectory of both Vodka and its number one seller seems to indicate that the category's success is contingent upon the success of its top performer.  

If Vodka continues its decline at the same pace as last year, its claim as Chicago’s favorite spirit will be in serious jeopardy. So which category is closing in on the top spot? Whiskey. 

We all know the Second City’s favorite cocktail is the Old Fashioned. Chicagoans seem to be drinking them so much that it's changing the entire landscape of liquor. While Whiskey is the second most popular in Chicagoland, it grew its share of spirits volume by 1% last year when compared to 2018. This was the second year in a row that Whiskey saw growth.

While that may not seem like much, any growth is substantial when the market share consistently hovers above 20%. We predict that Whiskey will continue to broaden its appeal in 2020 because frankly, Chicagoans will never turn down an old fashioned.

Local Craft Will Be the Cornerstone of Beer in the On-Premise

Craft had a tough year in the nations craft beer capitol. Overall, the craft segment made up almost 40% of total beer volume in Chicago but saw -3% YoY growth in share. But why? The issue is apparent when we break down overall craft into three different segments (large brewery, regional brewery, and local independent brewery). In 2019, volume for large breweries like Lagunitas, Breckinridge, and Blue Moon declined in share by -13.33%. In addition to the decline in share for large breweries, regional breweries like Bell's and Allagash lost market share in 2019 with -2% YoY growth. 

However, the story is different when looking at the performance of Chicago independent breweries. This segment was the only one to increase its share in craft beer and grew in share by 6% YoY. 

This continual growth provides proof in the market that consumer interest lies in supporting local and trying more adventurous products. Our 2020 prediction is that the on-premise will start stocking up on limited releases and adding more local craft on tap in an effort to lure customers from drinking off-premise to on.


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