It’s the time of year when the scorecards of the previous year’s beverage alcohol sales are being released, and one of those sets of figures - the Brewers Association annual lists of the top 50 craft and overall brewing companies in the U.S. The lists, based on beer sales volume, not only chart the rise and sometimes fall of regional craft brewers as they try to expand, but also the overall status of brewing in the U.S. In particular, as the BA puts it in their release, of the top 50 overall brewing companies, 42 were craft brewing companies.
“The companies on this list include the vanguard of the craft industry,” says Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association. “They are exposing new beer lovers to craft, opening new markets and creating opportunities for the entire category. As they continue to grow, so will the availability of innovative and high-quality beers produced for all to enjoy.”
Finding out who made last year’s top ten is instructive, with some names very familiar and others better known in their home regions. Top is D. G. Yuengling, Pottsville, Pa, while second is Sam Adams’ parent Boston Beer. Third is Sierra Nevada, Chico, CA, followed by New Belgium Brewing, Fort Collins, CO; Gambrinus, Shiner, TX; Lagunitas Brewing, Petaluma, CA; Deschutes Brewery, Bend, Or; Bell’s Brewery, Comstock, MI; Stone Brewing, Escondido, CA; and Minhas Craft Brewery, Monroe, WI.
The BA definition of a craft brewery has often been cited as confusing - for instance, the Craft Brew Alliance, brewer of Kona, Red Hook and Widmer, doesn’t qualify due to its part ownership by A-B InBev. But the Craft Brew Alliance does register among the top ten overall brewers, joined there by the top five craft brewers listed above.
Each of these brewers ship a myriad of beer styles, something that operators who aren’t primarily beer-focused have a hard time keeping up with, and getting their staff educated about. It’s especially tough given the knowledge level of the average craft beer customer often outstrips most servers. Helping to keep staff up on the range of beer styles is the BA’s recently released beer style guidelines.
Put together yearly by the Brewers Association, these guidelines serve as a reference tool for beer experts and judges, highlighting various beer styles. More than 600 total changes were made to this year’s version, ranging from minor tweaks of style parameters and revision of several category names, all the way to addition and deletion of beer style category guidelines. They added Session India Pale Ale, Contemporary Gose, Chili Pepper Beer and Mixed Culture Brett Beer. They also significantly revised German-Style Rye Ale, Fruit Wheat Beer, Belgian-Style Fruit Beer, Brett Beer and International-Style Pale Ale It’s a handy guide and one worth downloading to share with staff. As the numbers repeatedly tell us, craft beer is where the growth, and the profitability, are on-premise today.