American beer sales were down 1.3% by volume in 2011 and 1.2% in 2010, but Americans are still drinking plenty of brew. Craft beer sales were up 13% by volume last year and 12% in 2010. And there were 1,989 total breweries operating for some or all of last year, marking the highest total since the 1880s.

Despite the overall decline in beer sales volumes and the major shift to craft beer over the past two years, some big-time brewers are selling well based on the strength of their brands, sending a statement to behemoth Anheuser Busch InBev (NYSE: BUD) that the king may need to start looking for another castle.

The proletariat
According to the most recent Harris Poll EquiTrend, while it managed to crack the top 10, none of the top five strongest beer brands in the American market belong to AB InBev.

The Harris poll is a consumer-based poll that measures brand equity, connection, and buzz. The company considers aspects such as brand familiarity, quality, and its ability to generate conversation online, offline, and across the various social media platforms.

Rank

Brand

Brewer

1 Yuengling Yuengling
2 Blue Moon MillerCoors/Molson Coors (NYSE: TAP)
3 Sierra Nevada Pale Ale Sierra Nevada Brewing
4 Newcastle Brown Ale Heineken (OTC: HINKY)
5 Guinness Stout Diageo (NYSE: DEO)
6 Sam Adams Lager Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM)
7 Modelo Especial Grupo Modelo
8 Beck's AB InBev
9 Heineken Heineken
10 Corona Extra Grupo Modelo

Source: Harris Interactive.

Yuengling finishes first as America's top beer brand, displacing MillerCoors' fake craft beer Blue Moon, which finished first last year. Diageo's Guinness stout dropped two places from last year's list, as Boston Beer's Sam Adams fell four spots to finish sixth this year. Heineken did not have a beer in the top five last year, but the Dutch brewer made an impressive showing this year with two beers in the top 10.

Investing in brands
A recent Georgetown University white paper (link opens PDF file) addressed the question that a list like this typically generates: Does brand really matter? Should it merit any consideration when we make our investment decisions?

This particular paper is especially relevant because it specifically considers Harris' EquiTrend system, a consumer-based measure of brand equity, and how it compares to financial-based evaluations of brand equity. Essentially, the Georgetown study found that not only does brand matter when it comes to volatility and overall financial return, but that consumer-based brand studies are more effective at predicting stock performance than financially based brand studies.

Foolish takeaway
We all have brands we know and love, but sometimes it is worth checking our investments against brand lists like this. They may not reveal a 10-bagger, but they can generate solid ideas for consistent, reliable stock performance.

That doesn't mean you should give up the multibagger hunt, though. In fact, you can "Discover the Next Rule-Breaking Multibagger" that has our Rule Breakers analysts giddy with excitement. It's a razor-and-blades-model health care company that's not only well-positioned with a winning model but poised to benefit from a larger health care trend. You can read more about it here.

Fool contributor Aimee Duffy doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Check out what she's keeping an eye on by following her on Twitter, where she goes by @TMFDuffy

The Motley Fool owns shares of Boston Beer. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Molson Coors Brewing, Boston Beer, and Diageo. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days.