The Most Breweries in American History & What You Can Do About It

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The Beer Institute, which represents the beer industry in matters of government and politics, released some important data today regarding the number of active breweries in the United States. (Press release is below.) Not coincidentally, the Brewers Association, which represents America’s craft brewers, released a statement reminding us to be vigilant as Big Beer tries to capitalize on the growing popularity of craft beer. (Press release is below.)

According to data from the Beer Institute, there are now 2,751 breweries operating in the United States. That is the most breweries in history. You might think that the number of breweries inevitably grows with the population, that time marches on and so too does the number of breweries, but that is not necessarily the case.

Where Did All the Breweries Go?

In the late 1800s there were over 2,000 breweries in the country. In those days, breweries could not effectively or easily ship and distribute beer so local breweries provided beer to individual markets. Every town had a brewery. That number began to shrink as transportation technology advanced and as the temperance movement slowly began to dry-out the country. Prohibition essentially wiped out the American brewing industry.

When prohibition ended, the industry rebounded and a healthy number of breweries sprung up across America. There was a brief spike as new breweries opened but industry consolidation followed. By the 1970s things got really ugly. Smaller breweries were snatched up by larger breweries. Those larger breweries were in turn snatched up by even larger business entities. In 1979 there were just 44 breweries in the United States, the nation’s low water mark.

The modern craft beer revolution began in the early 1980s. For the past 30 years, the number of breweries has steadily increased. Today we find ourselves with the most breweries in our nation’s history despite Big Beer’s continuing efforts to further consolidate the industry and maintain their domination of the overall beer market.

Good Beer Always Wins

It is simple; there are now 2,751 breweries in America because an increasing number of Americans like to drink good beer. Independently operated, comparatively small breweries make good beer. Craft beer is good beer and craft breweries make craft beer. This inescapable fact makes Big Beer shake in their boots.

When I refer to Big Beer, I am talking about Anheuser Busch-InBev (AB-InBev) and Miller/Coors. InBev, an extremely huge multinational corporation based out of Belgium, now owns Anheuser Busch. Miller and Coors are now consolidated into one company that is owned by SABMiller, an extremely huge multinational corporation based out of London. AB-InBev, Miller/Coors, and the many brands they own, dominate the “yellow beer” market in America. Although craft beer is steadily gaining market share, Big Beer still accounts for about 90 percent of the beer consumed in America.

I’m not saying Big Beer is evil, I’m just saying that they are what they are and they do what they do. As an example, it seems that AB-InBev is about to take over Grupo Modelo (brewers of Corona, Modelo and other popular Mexican beer brands). Grupo Modelo controls about 70 percent of the beer market in Mexico in addition to all the beer it exports. Big Beer wants a piece of that action. The takeover now seems inevitable. It’s what they do.

Big Beer will continue to seek out ways to capitalize on the craft beer action. Either that or they will try to marginalize the craft beer industry until they control all of the beer market. It’s what they do. Just as they are buying Grupo Modelo, they will seek to buy successful craft breweries. They’ve already done so. Don’t throw Redhook and Widmer under that bus. You sound ignorant when you say that Budweiser owns Redhook. There are examples, but Craft Brew Alliance is not one. It’s a different animal.

Perhaps the most common and stealthy way that Big Beer is trying capitalize on the popularity of craft beer is by creating brands that appear to be craft beer but actually are not. They intentionally and cleverly disguise these faux craft brands. Blue Moon and Shock Top are the most obvious examples of Big Beer faux craft brands. There are many others.

None of this is news. It has been going on for some time now. The point is, Big Beer will be doing more and more of it. Snakes eat mice. Multinational corporations work to monopolize their industries as much as the law will allow. Nobody questions the morality of a snake’s behavior. We should not question the morality of Big Beer’s behavior. Just accept it and deal with it. If you don’t like it, support your local brewery.

For most of you, I know that I’m preaching to the choir. Still, a reminder to support your local brewery never hurts.

The two press releases are below.

The Beer Institute Press Release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

December 12, 2012

Number of Permitted Brewers Reaches All-Time High

WASHINGTON, DC – The Beer Institute announced new data today showing that the number of active permitted brewers rose to a historic high of 2,751, as reported by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). This high water mark is up from 2,309 active permitted brewers in 2011. This is the highest number of U.S. brewers ever recorded by the Beer Institute.

In 2012 the industry gained 442 new brewers with California gaining 31 brewers, Texas gaining 29, and Colorado, Illinois and Washington all gaining 28 each.

“This is an exciting time for beer. Today we have more breweries in the United States than ever before. New brewers are opening at a record pace, while brewers both big and small are delivering innovations in styles, flavors and packaging,” said Joe McClain, President of the Beer Institute, the trade association that represents beer brewers and importers.

“Whether it is a major brewery that supports thousands of good-paying jobs or a microbrewer that is expanding, brewers help our economy by drawing on a wide range of supporting industries – farming, manufacturing, distributing and service workers who help deliver beer to the consumer. Today, there are more than 1.8 million Americans at work because of beer,” McClain said.

An economic analysis shows that brewing and importing accounts for $223.8 billion in economic output, with employees earning nearly $71.2 billion in wages and benefits, and generating more than $44 billion in tax revenues.

 

The Brewers Association press release:

Boulder, CO • December 13, 2012—The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American craft brewers, issued the following statement regarding the increase in production and promotion of craft-like beers by large, non-craft breweries:

An American craft brewer is defined as small and independent. Their annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

The community of small and independent craft brewers has grown as beer enthusiasts embrace new, diverse beers brewed by their neighbors and friends who are invested in their local communities. Beer drinkers are voting with their palates and dollars to support these entrepreneurs and their small and independent businesses.

In 2011, small and independent craft brewers saw their industry grow 13 percent by volume; in the first half of 2012, volume grew by an additional 12 percent. Meanwhile, the overall beer industry was down 1.3 percent by volume and domestic non-craft was down 5 million barrels in 2011.

Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.

While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today’s small and independent brewers, it’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft.

However, many non-standard, non-light “crafty” beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it’s from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it’s made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.

The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.

And for those passionate beer lovers out there, we ask that you take the time to familiarize yourself with who is brewing the beer you are drinking. Is it a product of a small and independent brewer? Or is it from a crafty large brewer, seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of small and independent craft brewers?

A full list of U.S. breweries is available on BrewersAssociation.org. The Brewers Association list of domestic non-craft breweries is available for download.

One Response to The Most Breweries in American History & What You Can Do About It
  1. Tom
    December 13, 2012 | 11:49 pm

    Thanks. Good post. Cheers.