It’s the most wonderful time of the year for beer

Before turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce and football and off-color jokes from Uncle Marty, a growing number of Americans are taking part in another Thanksgiving tradition: having a beer or two with friends and family at their local bar the night before.

The Wednesday before Thanksgiving has become a leading drinking occasion in the on-premise, and bars around the country are preparing for an onslaught of pre-Turkey Day drinkers. The holiday before the holiday now ranks as one of their biggest nights of the year.

“For us, we think of it as the largest on-premise night of the year,” says Mike Abbott, senior director of channel marketing for MillerCoors. “On Thanksgiving, everyone tends to go home to see their families. And the night before is the biggest night of the year for people to connect with family and old friends, have a few beers and kick off the holiday season.”

The data bears out just how big the night is for bars and restaurants.

Dubbed “Black Wednesday,” the holiday is particularly beloved by millennials, 43 percent of whom say they plan to go to their neighborhood bar that evening, according to Nielsen data. That makes the night the second-most popular night of the year for local bars, just behind Halloween but ahead of New Year’s Eve.

But it’s not just millennials; in all 1 in 5 Americans say they’ll visit a restaurant, bar or nightclub the day before Thanksgiving, Nielsen says.

And when they do, a plurality are drinking beer, research shows. About 43 percent of consumers polled by Nielsen say they will drink beer, 33 percent say they will drink cocktails and 29 percent say they’ll drink wine. According to Upserve, which pulled sales data from 2,800 U.S. restaurants, overall sales jumped 23 percent on Black Wednesday compared with the same day a week earlier. Beer sales, however, surged 270 percent.

On Thanksgiving itself, some 80 percent of adults who drink alcohol beverages say they plan to have a drink or two to celebrate, according to a recent report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch. The holiday ranks as the No. 7 top beer-drinking holiday in the U.S. in the on-premise, ahead of Christmas and the Fourth of July, per a Bank of America analysis of NBWA and fintech data. It’s also an important holiday in the off-premise, ranking fifth, ahead of the Super Bowl, Halloween and St. Patrick’s Day.

For MillerCoors, the Wednesday “holiday” and Thanksgiving itself marks the start of the holiday push and the major kickoff of programs such as Miller Lite’s ugly sweater and knitwear campaign, Blue Moon’s paint-the-ornament events and Miller High Life’s Champagne-size bottles, Abbott says. MillerCoors reps have blanketed most major markets over the last two months to ensure bars are ready for an onslaught of consumers looking to catch up with family and friends.

In addition to a big push behind those brands, MillerCoors field teams this fall made a successful push to get more Coors Light tap handles in on-premise accounts, gaining about 10 percent distribution during September and October, Abbott says.

“The thing we’re constantly reminding our retail partners is that beer is still — by far — the most productive category in the bar. It sells more, moves faster and ranks as their best-seller during the holidays,” Abbott says. “We want to make certain they do not lose sight of how important beer is to the holidays.”