Cloudy With a Chance of Reign

Craft brew stats seem too good to be true. Are they?

istock_000035416710small_copyIn what has become an almost eerily familiar occurrence, the Brewers Association recently published news that ten years ago would have sounded like a gag: there are now more than 3,000 breweries operating in the U.S. (3,040, to be precise).

While that sounds far from the highwater mark of 4,131 in 1873, the truth is, we’re not. The U.S. Craft brewery count could easily sail past that historical number in another year, give or take. There are over 2,000 breweries-in-planning being tracked by the BA. Hmm. Is that vertigo coming on, or a war whoop?

We’ll put this in sharper perspective. In late 2011, there were about 1,800 craft breweries operating in the U.S. In other words, a new brewery opened every day on average. 5,000, here we come. Heck, why not 10,000? It’s no secret that industry leaders are shooting for a 20% market share. American craft brewers—we’re looking at you Brooklyn, Green Flash, Three Floyds, and Stone—are setting up shop in Europe. If we made it to the 1873 per-capita level of local breweries here on American soil, we’d hit 30,000, according to the BA.

Sounds like something to toast. But is there such a thing, as Bon Appétit recently argued, as too much good beer? Are the aisles and tap rows too crowded? You tell us.

What does it look like amid your local beer scene? Let us know below.

And read on for our take on the eternal question… too many breweries?

We may be wearing hop-hued glasses, but here’s why the answer, for now, is emphatically “no.” It’s all in your perspective. Admittedly, though the mood seems to be getting a little edgier these days—opening the door for contrarian takes like Deadspin’s recent Overrated Beers feature—we say the party’s just getting started. No doubt, bigger craft brands are feeling claustrophobic in certain markets—there’s only so much supermarket shelf space for craft brands that sell in 15, 20, or all 50 states. But here’s the beery bright side: 99% of new breweries are small (under 300bbls/year) and intensely localized. The market they are tapping into is, arguably, that of the large brands whose beers still rule 92% of the market, because they’re popping up in small towns—across the South, Great Plains, Florida, and beyond—whose only beer options have been big grocery stores stocked end-to-end with macrobrew.

Onward, we say. These garagistes of grain will not slow down. In Portland, OR, craft beer represents over half of all beer sold. So if the rest of the country keeps following The Rose City’s lead… well, you get the picture. We’ll agree with the sense that things are getting kind of crazy—bottle shops are dizzying these days—but as long as beer culture takes root locally, the numbers show that there’s plenty of room to grow. Are you with us? Why or why not?

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