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Three big names—Constellation, Heineken, and Diageo—are included in this year’s list.

Mike Pomranz
March 14, 2018

As serious beer lovers have come to expect about this time every year, the Brewers Association—America’s craft beer trade group—has released its list of the top U.S. breweries by sales volume for the previous year. The annual rankings are always broken down into two groups—craft breweries, as defined by the association, and overall breweries. But there are some interesting differences between this year’s and last year’s lists.

That said, at the top of the craft brewers’ list, it’s business as usual: The four largest craft brewers—Yuengling, Boston Beer Company (aka Sam Adams), Sierra Nevada, and New Belgium—are repeats from 2016. In fact, outside of a little bit of leapfrogging, the top 21 breweries remain relatively unchanged. The only notable exception is perhaps the addition of CANarchy, which holds the ninth spot. Last year, Oskar Blues ranked tenth, but that Colorado brewery has since teamed up with Florida’s Cigar City, Michigan’s Perrin, and the Utah-based brands Wasatch and Squatters to form a new “craft brewery collective”—a reminder that consolidation is occurring in even the craft world.

Speaking of reminders, last year’s 22nd largest brewery, the historic Anchor Brewing, is gone. It’s no longer defined as “craft” after it was bought out by Sapporo in 2017. Taking its place is Colorado’s Odell Brewing, which is one of the list’s biggest movers, jumping up five spots from 27th last year. A couple other notable drops are Brooklyn’s Sixpoint Brewery, which is off the list after landing the 43rd spot in 2017, as well as Green Flash Brewing, which dropped from number 37 to number 43 after some highly publicized struggles.

However, it’s the top 50 overall brewing companies list that is full of intrigue, thanks to the addition of some truly massive names. Along with the usual top two—Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors—Constellation, Heineken, and Diageo have all appeared in the top eight for the first time, signifying the impact of these companies on the American market. Constellation, which previously focused on Mexican brands such as Corona and Modelo, now owns three American previously-craft brands: Ballast Point, Funky Buddha and Tocayo. Heineken crashed onto the American “craft” scene when it completed its buyout of Lagunitas last year. Meanwhile, Diageo made huge headlines last year when it announced the company would be opening a new Guinness brewery in Baltimore, slated to open this year.

Overall, this year’s lists would seem to present a somewhat cautious tale as the entire beer industry—especially for the large and midsized breweries like the ones here—saw slowed growth in 2017. Even the association’s Chief Economist Bart Watson struck a somewhat tempered tone, pointing out in a press release that the beer world is “an increasingly competitive and mature marketplace.”