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Exploring the Top 50 Breweries

Exploring the Top 50 Breweries

Is the business of craft brewing now more of an established industry than a movement? For the last two decades, flavorful beer purveyed by relatively small brewers has changed the social landscape and no end to growth appeared in sight. But the production of beer by the Top 50 craft breweries, as designated by the Brewers Association, declined in 2018.

Here’s a good example of the maturing of the BA’s craft beer segment. Ninkasi Brewing produced about 1,000 fewer barrels last year than in 2017 – and it jumped up three positions in the Top 50 rankings. Wachusett Brewing grew by a modest 5,000 barrels and jumped up six positions. According to the BA, the category of those brewing more than 60,000 barrels of beer – which encompasses the Top 50 – saw overall production drop by 1.8 percent in 2018.

This year’s numbers represent the “new normal” according to BA officers, who are always trying to manage expectations about key statistics for their membership. But is this really something else – a big, flashing WARNING SIGN replete with sirens? Is craft brewing now settling into an industry that manages its relatively small annual growth or decline in an established footprint – much like the macro brewers do in a much bigger footprint?

It goes deeper than just the big boys and girls of craft brewing. According to the BA, ninety percent of brewers finished 2018 within 1,000 barrels of production compared to 2017 – a telling statistic of a maturing industry. The May issue of the BA’s in-house publication New Brewer will document actual barrelage, as usual, but the analysis of the organization’s Top 50 list, released in March, confirms a static pattern.

Of the Top 50 brewers in 2018, only two companies in the Top 25 moved up or down by more than one position. Those companies were Artisanal Brewing Ventures, which gained three positions to move up to the 11th largest brewer on the BA’s list, and Minhas Craft Brewing, which dropped two positions.

To take another view, the Brewers Institute, the older, more established organization that represents all brewers, reported an overall decline in craft beer sales versus the four percent overall growth cited by the BA for its members. By contrast to the BA, the Institute tracks all brewers it considers craft, which includes those breweries now owned by the traditional macro breweries or the macros’ craft brands developed in-house, such as Coors-owned Blue Moon. (Only one BA-defined craft brewer, Avery Brewing, moved to the BI’s list in 2018 due to ownership of more than 25 percent by a macro brewer; Avery was ranked 50th by the BA in 2017.)

Other signs of craft brewing no longer being a movement include the demise of print publications on the subject of beer and the static nature of beer festivals, which increasingly are confined to the long-established and familiar gatherings.

On the other hand, there is a lot of dramatic growth going on “below the line.” For the sake of this discussion, that line is established by the number 50 brewery on the BA list, which in 2018 was a surprising entry given its previous success – Left Hand Brewing. According to the BA, most all of its overall growth of a relatively small four percent came from breweries with less than 15,000 barrels of annual capacity and resulted from the increase in sales of beers across the counter in tasting rooms.


A can and poured glass of Tropic Thunder Lager by Stone Brewing Co.

Stone Brewing Co. is the 9th-largest craft brewery in the United States and the 18th biggest brewery overall in the U.S.


It’s important to remember the “from our back door” heroes such as Tree House and Trillium. Their volume doesn’t put them in the Top 50 of craft, yet, but their income surely ranks there due to their sales being direct to the consumer.

Well, what to do going forward? Can the BA’s craft brewers continue to take share from the macro beer drinkers in America who consume American Lagers like Bud Light, Coors Light, Miller Lite, Budweiser, etc.? Will craft brewers be able to slow an emerging trend toward Flavored Malt Beverages (FMB) and hard seltzers or so-called healthy lifestyle beers like Michelob Ultra? Or will they have to join that trend? Imported beers are again on the rise, especially Mexican Lagers. Spirits and wine increasingly compete vigorously with beer. Then there’s the wild card of cannabis beers in states where legal.

Overall, I would say the market share of domestically brewed, flavorful beer is probably close to 18 percent – including both the 13 percent claimed by the BA’s definition of craft and those brands owned by the macros. This latter group includes brands such as Founders, Lagunitas, Anchor, Elysian or Wicked Weed, which have been recently de-listed from the BA due to more than 25 percent ownership by a macro brewer. It also includes in-house macro brands such as Blue Moon, which technically has been the largest-selling “craft” – or flavorful – beer in America for quite some time.

This brings us back to the subject of movement versus industry. Is it possible that the long-established macro brewers (who have undoubted industrial strength) will do a better job of converting American premium lager drinkers of their own brands such as Bud, Miller and Coors to their more flavorful brands over time? Will a brand such as Founders, which moved up a notch on the list of all breweries to the 14th largest in America, become the cutting edge due to ownership and the resources of the Spanish brand Mahou San Miguel combined with American craft ingenuity?

Founders’ invention of the session IPA, for example, continues to carry the Michigan-based company across state borders and to new production highs. In addition, Founders has recently introduced an impressive lager, likely with an eye cocked on American premium lager drinkers.

This appears to be the road we’re on. Can the BA craft brewers do a better job of gaining market share from traditional American premium lager drinkers better than the craft brands owned by the macro brewers – while holding their own against the newcomer categories and imports? It’s a tough question because it appears that Mexican lagers, spearheaded by macro newcomer Constellation Brands, are doing exceedingly well in terms of percentage growth along with hard seltzers. In addition, the major BA craft brewers are increasingly having to devote themselves to fighting newer BA-identified brewers staking a claim to the same space.

I must admit my usual optimism about flavorful beer has taken a hit. Considering the fall of quite a few major BA craft brands recently, has the horizon for growth of what we all know as craft beer been over-estimated? Even Constellation Brands has now acknowledged the slowing growth of the once heady brand of Ballast Point by writing down roughly $200 million from the purchase price it paid for the California-based craft brewery of $1 billion in 2015. (This may be one case where an acquisition hit serious backlash from traditional craft drinkers against the brand, but more likely Constellation simply paid too much.)

It’s not yet a depressing situation in my view. But will the innovative, sometimes whacky, and always irreverent spirit of craft brewing be enough to keep a movement alive? Combined with a tighter-than-ever focus on execution, more attention to using the same tactics as macro brewers such as TV advertising, and fewer means of outreach to craft beer lovers such as magazines and beer festivals, will the traditional craft brewers be able to find new growth? Under this scenario, one or two percent growth or decline for a craft brewer could become an acceptable standard for whether it was a good year or bad.

There are still dramatic growth numbers in craft in all regions of the country. Brands like Tree House, Trillium, Rhinegeist, Modern Times, Georgetown, Scofflaw and Cigar City keep pushing the envelope when it comes to growth, invariably based on IPAs. Others can brew that style, too, and increasingly execution is the name of the game, one that may favor size and resources in the long run as much as innovation and flavor.

The full Top 50 craft breweries and brewing companies are below, courtesy of Brewers Association:


Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies


Rank

Brewery Name

City

State

1

D. G. Yuengling & Son Inc.

Pottsville

PA

2

Boston Beer Co.

Boston

MA

3

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Chico

CA

4

New Belgium Brewing Co.

Fort Collins, San Francisco

CO, CA

5

Duvel Moortgat

Paso Robles, Kansas City, Cooperstown

CA, MO, NY

6

Gambrinus

San Antonio, Berkeley, Portland

TX, CA, OR

7

Bell’s Brewery Inc.

Comstock

MI

8

CANarchy

Longmont, Tampa, Salt Lake City, Comstock, Inglewood, Dallas

CO, FL, UT, MI, CA, TX

9

Stone Brewing Co.

Escondido

CA

10

Deschutes Brewery

Bend

OR

11

Artisanal Brewing Ventures

Downingtown, Lakewood, Brooklyn

PA, NY, NY

12

Brooklyn Brewery

Brooklyn

NY

13

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Milton

DE

14

SweetWater Brewing Co.

Atlanta

GA

15

Minhas Craft Brewery

Monroe

WI

16

New Glarus Brewing Co.

New Glarus

WI

17

Matt Brewing Co.

Utica

NY

18

Harpoon Brewery

Boston

MA

19

Alaskan Brewing Co.

Juneau

AK

20

Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Cleveland

OH

21

Abita Brewing Co.

Abita Springs

LA

22

Stevens Point Brewery

Stevens Point

WI

23

Odell Brewing Co.

Fort Collins

CO

24

Summit Brewing Co.

St. Paul

MN

25

August Schell Brewing Co.

New Ulm

MN

26

21st Amendment Brewery

Bay Area

CA

27

Troëgs Brewing Co.

Hershey

PA

28

Rhinegeist Brewery

Cincinnati

OH

29

Shipyard Brewing Co.

Portland

ME

30

Allagash Brewing Co.

Portland

ME

31

Long Trail Brewing Co.

Bridgewater Corners

VT

32

Narragansett Brewing Co.

Providence

RI

33

Flying Dog Brewery

Frederick

MD

34

Surly Brewing Company

Minneapolis

MN

35

Ninkasi Brewing Co.

Eugene

OR

36

Rogue Ales

Newport

OR

37

Gordon Biersch Brewing Co.

San Jose

CA

38

Revolution Brewing

Chicago

IL

39

Three Floyds Brewing Co.

Munster

IN

40

Karl Strauss Brewing Co.

San Diego

CA

41

Georgetown Brewing Co.

Seattle

WA

42

Uinta Brewing Co.

Salt Lake City

UT

43

Wachusett Brewing Co.

Westminster

MA

44

Full Sail Brewing Co.

Hood River

OR

45

Modern Times Beer

San Diego

CA

46

North Coast Brewing Co.

Fort Bragg

CA

47

Lost Coast Brewery

Eureka

CA

48

Saint Arnold Brewing Co.

Houston

TX

49

Bear Republic Brewing Co.

Cloverdale

CA

50

Left Hand Brewing Company

Longmont

CO


Top 50 Overall Brewing Companies


Rank

Brewery Name

City

State

 

1

Anheuser-Busch Inc. (a)

St. Louis

MO

2

MillerCoors (b)

Chicago

IL

3

Constellation (c)

Chicago

IL

4

Heineken (d)

White Plains

NY

5

Pabst Brewing Co. (e)

Los Angeles

CA

6

D. G. Yuengling & Son Inc.

Pottsville

PA

7

Diageo (f)

Norwalk

CT

8

FIFCO USA (g)

Rochester

NY

9

Boston Beer Co. (h)

Boston

MA

10

Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.

Chico

CA

11

New Belgium Brewing Co. (i)

Fort Collins

CO

12

Craft Brew Alliance (j)

Portland

OR

13

Duvel Moortgat (k)

Paso Robles, Kansas City, Cooperstown

CA, MO, NY

14

Founders Brewing Co. (l)

Grand Rapids

MI

15

Gambrinus (m)

San Antonio, Berkeley, Portland

TX, CA, OR

16

Bell’s Brewery Inc. (n)

Comstock

MI

17

CANarchy (o)

Longmont, Tampa, Salt Lake City, Comstock, Inglewood, Dallas

CO, FL, UT, MI, CA, TX

18

Stone Brewing Co.

Escondido

CA

19

Deschutes Brewery

Bend

OR

20

Artisanal Brewing Ventures (p)

Downingtown, Lakewood, Brooklyn

PA, NY, NY

21

Brooklyn Brewery

Brooklyn

NY

22

Dogfish Head Craft Brewery

Milton

DE

23

SweetWater Brewing Co.

Atlanta

GA

24

Minhas Craft Brewery (q)

Monroe

WI

25

New Glarus Brewing Co.

New Glarus

WI

26

Matt Brewing Co. (r)

Utica

NY

27

Sapporo USA (s)

La Crosse, San Francisco

WI, CA

28

Harpoon Brewery

Boston

MA

29

Alaskan Brewing Co.

Juneau

AK

30

Great Lakes Brewing Co.

Cleveland

OH

31

Abita Brewing Co.

Abita Springs

LA

32

Stevens Point Brewery (t)

Stevens Point

WI

33

Odell Brewing Co.

Fort Collins

CO

34

Summit Brewing Co.

St. Paul

MN

35

August Schell Brewing Co. (u)

New Ulm

MN

36

21st Amendment Brewery

Bay Area

CA

37

Troëgs Brewing Co.

Hershey

PA

38

Rhinegeist Brewery

Cincinnati

OH

39

Shipyard Brewing Co. (v)

Portland

ME

40

Allagash Brewing Co.

Portland

ME

41

Long Trail Brewing Co.

Bridgewater Corners

VT

42

Narragansett Brewing Co.

Providence

RI

43

Flying Dog Brewery

Frederick

MD

44

Surly Brewing Company

Minneapolis

MN

45

Ninkasi Brewing Co.

Eugene

OR

46

Rogue Ales

Newport

OR

47

Gordon Biersch Brewing Co.

San Jose

CA

48

Revolution Brewing

Chicago

IL

49

Three Floyds Brewing Co.

Munster

IN

50

Karl Strauss Brewing Co.

San Diego

CA