In what is good news for all lovers of good beer, the Brewer’s Association announced last week that the number of breweries in the United States has reached 2126, a number that exceeds 1887 numbers, when anyone really started tracking these things. The count back in the days of your great great grandparents’ day was 2011, and that high water mark had dropped to 1179 just before prohibition put an end to the heyday of brewing in America.
While there were no (legal) breweries during prohibition, the industry recovered fairly quickly, growing back to 703 beer makers not too long after the ban on alcohol production was lifted. The low water mark came around 1978, when industry consolidation and the growth of a St. Louis based mega brewer sounded the death knell for most local breweries. At that time, there were just 89 breweries operating nationwide.
I don’t think that its a coincidence that the growth of the homebrew movement in the early 1980s led to the resurgence that we are still experiencing. It seems that craft brewing is succeeding despite falling sales numbers for beer as a whole:
Dollar sales were up 14 percent in the first half of 2012, while volume of craft brewed beer sold jumped 12 percent during that same time period.
Barrels sold by craft brewers for the first six months of 2012 are an estimated 6.0 million barrels. Despite a number of challenges, including decreased overall beer sales, the mid-year numbers show signs of continued growth for craft breweries.
As I said earlier… more beer is more good. I’m sure that there will be some shaking out in the craft beer world and not every startup will survive, but its good to see that more people are turning to small breweries for beer.