Friday 10 August 2012

US brewing goes from strength to strength

There's more brewers in the USA now than at any time since 1887, according to figures put out by the US Brewers Association earlier this week. The total now stands at 2,126 breweries – that's up from a low of just 89 in the late 1970s, ignoring the nominal figure of zero during Prohibition of course!

The Brewers Association (BA), which is the trade group for small and independent brewers in the US, also tracks breweries in planning: it says there's 1,252 more breweries in the works, up from 725 this time last year. Beer sales were up in the first half of this year too, by 14% in dollar terms and 12% in revenues – yes, that means prices went up too...

“Beer-passionate Americans are opening breweries at a rate faster than at any time since the day Prohibition ended for the beverage of moderation,” said BA director Paul Gatza. “There is nearly a new brewery opening for every day of the year, benefiting beer lovers and communities in every area across the country.”

He added that 97% of those operating US brewers are 'craft breweries', although the BA's definition of craft might look a little odd to UK eyes. It says an American craft brewer is “small, independent, and traditional” - but by small it means an annual production of less than 6 million barrels, which is about 7 million hectolitres.

That's a heck of a lot! By comparison, the bigger UK regional breweries brew less than half a million barrels a year, even allowing for the slight difference between UK and US sizes, and in 2009 the entire membership of SIBA brewed less than 2m hl. Really this definition just serves to exclude the likes of AB-Inbev and MillerCoors – the latter's megabrewery in Golden CO alone can brew 23m barrels a year.

Still, it's all good news for lover of good beer, as Paul Gatka noted. “Generally, most craft brewers are continuing to see strong growth in production, sales, brewing capacity and employment, which is to be celebrated during challenged times for many of today’s small businesses,” He said. “Plus it’s a fact that beer drinkers are responding to the quality and diversity created by small American brewing companies. India pale ales, seasonal beers, Belgian-inspired ales and a range of specialty beers are just a few of the beer styles that are growing rapidly.”

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