But uncertainty over the future of the beer business overshadows the newly released list of America’s largest independent brewers.

By Mike Pomranz and Mike Pomranz
April 02, 2020
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Even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, times were tough for the brewing industry. Beer lovers’ focus on supporting smaller local brewers had kept the number of breweries within the U.S. surging ever higher past the 8,000 mark, but overall sales had stagnated. And midsized breweries—meaning some of the larger independent craft breweries—were forced to reassess their spot in this crowded market.

With that in mind, the craft beer trade group the Brewers Association (BA) has released its annual list of the top 50 craft brewing companies by sales volume for 2019. As was the case last year, not a ton has changed, likely for the reasons mentioned above: Breweries have been wary of unnecessary expansion as people drink less, and those who do drink have tended to keep their business local.

Duvel Moortgat / Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. / New Belgium Brewing Co. / Boston Beer Co. / D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc.

Amazingly, only one new brewery joined the top 50—Connecticut’s Two Roads landing at #47—and likewise, only one brewery dropped out—Utah’s Uinta (which lost its private equity partner in 2019). Meanwhile, at the top of the list, no one swapped spots until Deschutes and Artisanal Brewing Ventures (which runs Victory, Southern Tier, and Sixpoint) switched into the 10th and 11th positions.

Here are the top 1o “craft” brewers as defined by the BA:

  1. G. Yuengling and Son
  2. Boston Beer Co (includes Alchemy & Science, Angel City, Concrete Beach, Coney Island, and Sam Adams brands; does not include Truly, Twisted Tea, or Angry Orchard brands; Boston Beer has acquired Dogfish Head Craft Brewery who will appear under Boston Beer in 2020)
  3. Sierra Nevada Brewing
  4. New Belgium Brewing Co (includes Magnolia Brewing Brands; New Belgium has been acquired by Kirin and will appear under Kirin in 2020)
  5. Duvel Moortgat (includes Boulevard, Firestone Walker, and Ommegang brands)
  6. Gambrinus (includes BridgePort [closed 2019], Shiner, and Trumer brands)
  7. Bell’s Brewery (includes Bell’s and Upper Hand brands)
  8. CANarchy (includes Cigar City, Deep Ellum, Oskar Blues Brewing Co, Perrin, Three Weavers, and Utah Brewers Cooperative brands)
  9. Stone Brewing
  10. Artisanal Brewing Ventures (includes Sixpoint, Southern Tier, and Victory brands)

But in the wake of the coronavirus crisis, this list could be telling moving forward. Speaking to me last month, the BA’s Chief Economist Bart Watson said it’s possible that—due to the economic impact of COVID-19—we may see more breweries close than open for the first time since 2005 as the smaller local breweries that have continued to drive the independent beer movement struggle to find the resources to weather prolonged taproom and bar closures. “This will halt and perhaps reverse the growth in the number of breweries in the short-term,” Watson told me. “It’s impossible to predict how many breweries will close this year, but it’s going to be the highest number we’ve seen in recent years.”

On the other hand, larger breweries—like those in the top 50—are perhaps more economically embedded and able to ride out this uncertainty. It’s something Watson hinted at in the announcement of this year’s list: “Although 2020 will be a markedly different year than 2019 for the craft brewing market, these companies are well positioned to help the craft category weather the current market uncertainty and rebound with the flavor, variety, and innovation that beer lovers have come to expect from small brewers,” he stated. For now, though, the list must speak for itself.

Here's the full list of the BA's 50 largest independent brewers in 2019:

Courtesy of Brewers Association