Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Craft Brewing has Never Been Bigger, Right?

US breweries in operation.  Source: Beer Institute Brewers Almanac
Given the proliferation of new craft breweries and brewpubs - new ones seem to be opening up every other week - it is tempting to think of this time as the very pinnacle of craft brewing in the US in the last 100 years. Not so fast, it turns out that the reality is a little more nuanced.  In fact you can see from the graph above that the expansion in breweries was going gangbusters until they peaked in 1998 and then the bottom fell out.  Since then it has been a decidedly rockier road.

While the number of breweries has finally eclipsed the 1998 number the number of brewpubs has not:  in 2000 there were 1066 brewpubs in the United States while in 2010 there were only 1033.

In fact, in terms of craft beer volume, the boom in the 1990s was also followed by a very difficult period from about 1998 to 2003. For example in 1997 the volume of craft beer as a percentage of total volume rose 0.12% from 2.50% 5o 2.62%. But in the entire 5 year period from 1998 to 2003 it grew only 0.08% from 2.62% to 2.70%. Then in 2004 it grew again at a rate of 0.16%, from 2.7% to 2.86%. And in 2005 it grew 0.25% to 3.11%!

Here are some other Oregon centric factoids:

  • Only two brewing companies currently in operation in Oregon started in the period between 1999 ans 2003 - Laurelwood and Klamath Basin.

  • The number of Oregon microbreweries peaked in 1998 and it was not until 2008 that they reached the 1998 number.

Thus there are boom and bust cycles in craft brewing and one should not take this current boom as a signal that the only way is up.

Economists call the entry and exit of firms the process of 'creative destruction' which has to do with the fact that innovation continues and new more creative firms may start up and old, less creative ones shut down.  So I wonder whether y'all think that it was the better breweries that survived or just the better businesses?

The take-away from all this is, I suppose, be very thankful you live in a time of craft beer ascendancy, but don't take it for granted. Support you local brewer!


Unknown said...

Just to let you know, the graph starts at '47 not '60 like the title says.

Patrick Emerson said...

Ah, that is grabbed straight from the Beer Institute, perhaps they were doing too much 'research'.

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