Mid-Year Data Shows Craft Beer is Still Growing

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The growth may not be as significant as in previous years, but craft brewers are still growing. This is according to new mid-year data released by the Brewers Association (BA), the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers. How much are they growing? American craft beer production volume increased 8% during the first half of the year. That's down from the total in 2014 of 18% and 2015 of 13%, but the decline was inevitable.

“While the craft brewing industry is entering a period of maturation, most markets are not near saturation,” said Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association. “As craft’s base gets larger, as with any industry, it becomes more difficult for it to grow at the same percentage rate. Yet there is still tremendous dynamism reflected in eight percent growth for craft. Production growth of small and independent craft brewers continues to be one of the main bright spots for domestic beer in the U.S. Even in a more competitive market, for the vast majority of small and independent brewers, opportunities still exist.”

As of June 30, there are now a record high number of breweries operating in the country: 4,656 breweries by the BA count, an increase of 917 breweries over the same time period last year. And there’s every reason to believe that the number will surpass 5,000 by next year’s end, as by the BA count, there were approximately 2,200 breweries in planning.

Volume for specific brewers wasn’t available, and some of the craft brewers on the 2015 top 50 list won’t be appearing when the 2016 numbers are added up. Petaluma, California’s Lagunitas, San Diego’s Ballast Point, Littleton, Colorado’s Breckenridge, and Tempe, Arizona’s Four Peaks have all been gobbled up in part or whole by major international brewers, effectively removing them from the BA’s definition of a craft brewer:

  • Defined as small (annual production of six million barrels of beer or less), independent (less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer) and traditional (a brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation).

How that will play out in bars and restaurants that have increasingly found those beers made available as a result of better national distributorship controlled by big brewers remains to be seen.

But the BA is still very optimistic that the remaining and new breweries will continue to grow. “The opening rate compared to closing rate for breweries remains incredibly strong, with a historic number of breweries operating in the U.S.,” said Watson. “As long as there is growing consumer demand, beer lovers’ thirst will continue to advance the category of craft brewed beer from small and independent producers.”


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