By Mike Pomranz
Updated April 05, 2016
Credit: © Pinhole Photographic / Stockimo / Alamy

Once again, the Brewers Association – the trade group that represents small and independent brewers --- has released their list of the 50 largest craft breweries. For 2015, however, the biggest story isn’t who’s on the list, but who won’t be next year.

Unlike previous year’s lists, the 2015 roundup is pocked with several asterisks, marking breweries that saw their “craft volume pro-rated in 2015 or will be pro-rated/exiting craft brewer data set in 2016.” This includes two breweries in the top eleven: Lagunitas Brewing Co which sold a 50 percent stake to Heineken and Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits which was sold to Constellation Brands for a cool $1 billion. Further down the list in the 40s are Breckenridge Brewery and Four Peaks Brewing Co who both made headlines last year for selling to Anheuser-Busch InBev.

Next year, all four of these brands will find themselves moved or folding into a larger brand on the Top 50 US Overall Brewing Companies list that the Brewers Association includes as a companion to their Top 50 US Craft Brewing Companies list. The Overall list includes brewers that don’t fit the Brewers Association’s occasionally shifting definition of “small, independent and traditional” – names like Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors and Pabst.

Of course, breweries jumping ship from one list to another is nothing new: For instance, one of the fastest growing craft breweries of 2014, Founders Brewing Co, found itself only landing on the “Overall” list in 2015 after selling a 30 percent stake to Spain’s Mahou-San Miguel Group.

But despite craft brewers continuing to see big sales growth and pushing past the 4,000 brewery mark in 2015, those four asterisks on this most recent list also hammer home some of the growing pains the world of craft beer has been going through recently. Though the vast majority of craft breweries out there are still small, independent and traditional, the names at the top of the craft industry are certainly no longer small as they used to be. Increasingly, it looks like the next shoe to fall will be their independence.

Regardless, supporting your favorite craft breweries is still a worthy cause, even if technically doing so has gotten a bit more confusing over the past few years. How you feel about those other brands… Well that’s up to you. A name like Lagunitas has been a figurehead of craft brewing for so long, in many ways the coming changes leave more questions than answers.