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“Beer lovers want to support businesses that align with their values and are having a positive impact on their local communities and our larger society.”

Mike Pomranz
March 27, 2018

It's no secret that 2017 was a bit of a rough year for the craft beer industry. Production volume continued to grow, but at the slowest pace it’s seen in over a decade. However, despite its slowing pace, last year’s recently released statics from the Brewers Association (BA), the craft beer industry trade group, paint an extremely positive picture in a slightly different regard: the general ethos of craft beer appears to still be alive and well.

According to the BA, in 2017, craft brewers saw a five percent rise in volume, down from six percent the year before, and significantly down from previous years of double-digit growth. However, a larger takeaway exists when looking at the beer industry as a whole. Last year, the retail dollar value of craft beer saw an 8 percent increase, giving craft a 23.4 percent share of the dollar value market. The BA also points out that smaller microbreweries and brewpubs delivered 76 percent of the craft brewer growth. Meanwhile, the beer market as a whole, including large macro-brewers like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, saw volumes drop by one percent for the year.

Putting all those metrics together, what emerges is that though “craft” beer – as formally defined by the Brewers Association – may be seeing slower growth, the implication is that smaller local breweries, ones that are essentially the same size now as the ones that got the craft beer explosion rolling again a decade ago – are still thriving.

Yes, people are buying less beer in total, but instead, they’re willing to spend more money to get beer from smaller producers – many of which still strictly adhere to the ethos that got craft beer off the ground: quality brews independently made and locally sold.

“Growth for the craft brewing industry is adapting to the new realities of a mature market landscape,” Bart Watson, the Brewers Association’s chief economist, said in a statement. “Beer lovers are trending toward supporting their local small and independent community craft breweries.”

For that reason, the most telling number in the BA’s report is one that continues to shoot skyward at an outrageous pace: The BA has pegged the official number of breweries for 2017 at 6,372 – a 16 percent increase from the year before – with 6,064 of those brewers fitting the microbrewery or brewpub definition. “Beer lovers want to support businesses that align with their values and are having a positive impact on their local communities and our larger society,” Watson later added.

The beer industry as a whole may be struggling, but beer lovers’ dedication to the craft beer ideology would seem to be as strong as ever. If anything, maybe it’s the BA’s definition of “craft” which doesn’t quite reflect what’s happening in the marketplace. Apparently, some of those craft brewers may be too big for craft drinkers’ tastes.