Of the many disputes in which I find myself over the state of the wine world, many come down to the difference between the view from my window and the view the other person sees when they look out of theirs. I say, for instance, that most people aren’t very interested in wine, or – in the UK at least – ready to pay very much for it, and the other person responds that he or she is daily surrounded by masses of enthusiasts eager to hand over their £20 notes. (Ok, I’m exaggerating for effect here, but you know what I mean).

And often, of course, we’re both right. The view from my window includes lots of boring-but-true statistics; the view from his includes handfuls of £20 notes.

To illustrate how we can both be right, let’s shift away from wine for a moment and look at the craft beer movement in the US. By any standards, this is a remarkable success story. From near extinction in 1979, the number of breweries has grown to nearly 3,000.

More recent statistics put the number at closer to 2,400

According to the US Brewers Association statistics I’ve reprinted below, the sector is continuing to grow – at over 15% pa, is worth over $10bn in retail sales and employs over 100,000 people.

This is all very exciting, but to put it into context, craft beers still only represent 6.5% of US beer sales. This may well continue to grow, but will it exceed 10%? I happen to love interesting beer and applaud this explosion in the number of US breweries that produce it (the British market share is still only around 2%), but looking through my window, I cannot ignore the fact that over 9 in ten glasses of beer are not full of craft beer. And that figure is not likely to change radically in the next few years.

It’s possible to thrive in niches; those 2,000+ craft breweries may be very profitable – or at least some of them will be, especially the half that sell their brews over the bar. But craft beer is still a niche. Like “serious” wine. And to overestimate its importance to the mass of consumers makes no more sense than to overestimate the influence a minority political party may have on the way a country is run.

In Britain, this is particularly relevant to some of the overly enthusiastic talk about UK “independent” retailers, a part of the market whose influence is probably remarkably similar to US craft brewers on the other side of the water.


Craft Brewing Facts

  • Craft brewers currently provide an estimated 108,440 jobs in the U.S., including serving staff in brewpubs.
  • Growth of the craft brewing industry in 2012 was 15% by volume and 17% by dollars compared to growth in 2011 of 13% by volume and 15% by dollars.
  • Craft brewers sold an estimated 13,235,917 barrels* of beer in 2012, up from 11,467,337 in 2011.
  • The craft brewing sales share in 2012 was 6.5% by volume and 10.2% by dollars.
  • Craft brewer retail dollar value in 2012 was an estimated $10.2 billion, up from $8.7 billion in 2011.
  • As of March 18, 2013, the Brewers Association is aware of 409 brewery openings in 2012 (310 microbreweries and 99 brewpubs) and 43 brewery closings (18 microbreweries and 25 brewpubs).
  • 2,347 craft breweries operated for some or all of 2012, comprised of 1,132 brewpubs, 1,118 microbreweries and 97 regional craft breweries.

Other U.S. Brewing Industry Facts

  • Overall U.S. beer sales were up an estimated 0.9% by volume in 2012.
  • Imported beer sales were up 1% in 2012 and up 1% in 2011.
  • Overall U.S. beer sales were approximately 200,028,520 barrels and imported beer sales were 27,712,665 barrels in 2012.
  • 2,403 total breweries operated for some or all of 2012, the highest total since the 1880s.
* 1 barrel = 31 US gallons
Last updated on 3/18/2013

  1. Very good article. I've already hedged Robert! Curious Brew is doing rather well and has limitless growth. Chapel Down is doing very well, but I'm very weather dependent and growth takes some time!

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