Good Beer Hunting

There are 5,000 Operating Breweries in the United States

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: The craft beer industry is growing! Per the Brewers Association’s Year in Review, released Monday, the industry now counts more than 5,000 breweries among its ranks nationwide. To be exact, there are currently 5,005 breweries operating today, compared to roughly 10,000 wineries, the BA says. Together, those breweries spurred total segment growth of 8% at the mid-year point in June.

The appetite for American-made craft beer increased even more outside of the country, though. Export volume from U.S. craft brewers grew more than 16% in 2016, as brewers shipped more than 446,000 barrels of beer to international markets. 
“In the face of numerous opportunities and challenges in 2016, small and independent craft brewers continue to thrive,” said Bart Watson, the BA’s chief economist, in a statement. “This community should be very proud of what it has accomplished and how far it has come.”

The brewery count is an interesting statistic because it’s very often used to support competing arguments, depending on the argument maker’s own agenda. On one side, the side that the BA would champion, the number represents proof of the industry’s continued vibrancy. And positioned next to the winery count, which doubles the number of breweries in existence, it supports the notion that any talk of the bubble bursting is premature.

Conversely, others point to the figure as evidence that the floor is about to buckle under the weight of too many breweries. Shelf space is too limited and tap lines are too few to sustain more than X number of businesses, they say, with only more on the horizon. There is probably truth to be parsed from the ideas on each side.

Either way, crossing the 5K-threshold was inevitable. The juicier figures are those pertaining to the exploding export business—which it actually tallied earlier this year. To reiterate, export volume is expected to grow 16.3% in 2016, totaling 446,151 barrels worth $116 million, per the BA. That’s a lot of beer and cash. But the BA attributes that volume to merely “more than 100” operations (up from an estimated 80 back in March), a fraction of the number of businesses that could feasibly embrace their own sense of wanderlust. Which is to say, if we’re debating whether a pinch is coming stateside, the opportunity to explore foreign territories is still untapped in a major way.

There were, of course, some other numbers worth pointing out from the BA’s Year in Review. Among them: the IPA style refuses to slow down and now accounts “roughly one-quarter” of all craft volume. That said, more “sessionable styles, including golden ales, pilseners and pale lagers, are up 33 percent, totaling nearly five percent of craft.” Elsewhere, America’s 1.2 million home brewers “created over 11,000 jobs, resulting in more than $1 billion in spending and over $700 million in revenues.”
—Dave Eisenberg
Craft Beer Year in Review [Brewers Association]