Craft Brewers Thrived Throughout 2017

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Annual Brewers Association report reveals taprooms are surging.


Craft beer sales may have slowed somewhat in the past year, the industry muddied by dispute over what constitutes "craft." But continued growth in the number of breweries, the creation of an independent craft brewer seal, and an increase in beer tourism and taproom sales are signs of a healthy business. The positive outlook on craft beer comes to us through a new report released by industry trade group the Brewers Association (BA).

"Craft brewers continue to thrive, if at a slower pace, fueled by a passionate community dedicated to bringing innovation, jobs and beer across America - on Main Street and beyond," says BA chief economist Bart Watson. "Today, 83 percent of the population lives within 10 miles of a local brewery, meaning that the positive impact of breweries is being felt in communities all over the country."

More than 2,700 of members of the BA, accounting for more than 75% of craft beer volume, have adopted the independent craft brewer seal. That’s closing in on half of the approximately 6,000 breweries in operation during 2017, 98% of them small and independent craft brewers. The badge, which features an upside-down beer bottle, was unveiled in June to help BA member breweries distinguish their beers from those owned by large international companies.

To support the independently owned brewers and position them against the formerly independent brewers now owned by major international brewers, the BA also launched “Take Craft Back,” an irreverent crowdfunding attempt to raise $213 billion to purchase Anheuser-Busch InBev. Nearly 12,000 lovers of craft beer pledged to contribute $3.8 million over the span of roughly two months, says the BA.

Meanwhile, in a sign that not only wine and spirits but also beer tourism is growing and creating a challenge to more traditional bar and restaurant operations, the BA reports the average craft drinker visits 3.5 breweries close to their home, and just more than two breweries that are within two hours' driving distance from their home. In addition, 64% of craft drinkers surveyed said visiting a brewery and/or taproom represented beer-consuming occasion new or different to their usual habits. These developments indicate that brewery/taproom visits have created a new sales channel for beer, one not necessarily beneficial to operators.

"This has been an incredible year for the craft beer community with both challenges and successes. Emphasized more than ever before is the need to advocate for and educate beer drinkers on the importance and value of craft brewers to our nation and our culture," said Julia Herz, craft beer program director, Brewers Association. "What is especially gratifying is watching the positive impacts beer tourism and independent breweries are having on local communities."

Meanwhile, according to a recent Nielsen off-premise report, craft beer grew 3.4% in dollars in the 52-week period which concluded October 7, 2017, and 40 of the top 100 craft breweries across the United States, based on dollar sales, leading double-digit growth within the craft beer category. Expanded distribution for these elite craft brands, while slowed recently, has directly assisted their growth.

The report from Nielsen states that the western region of the United States is leading craft beer brewery growth. A dozen of the 40 elite craft breweries are located in western states: 6 are in California, there are three in Washington state, two are located in Oregon, and one of the elite breweries is in Utah. Midwestern states represent 10 of the 40 elite, with Michigan and Ohio each home to three top-growing craft breweries.

According to Nielsen data, India Pale Ale (IPA) is by far the largest beer style within the overall craft segment. IPA accounts for roughly 30% of total craft beer sales, and accounts for 40% of sales within the elite 40 breweries. However, while over 70% of overall sales at 6 of the elite 40 is generated by IPA-style beers, some breweries see considerable growth from other styles of beer, an interesting contrast uncovered by Nielsen.

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