TGIF – Beer in numbers, and what exactly is ‘quality’?

Every year, the American Craft Brewers Conference offers instructive insights into the market where the beer revolution originated – the revolution that also inspired hundreds of new brewers and breweries and thousands of consumers in Europe, who all suddenly did understand that there is more than pils, blond, triple and witbier alone. More than 13,000 attendees came together in recent days, exchanging knowledge and experience at seminars and shared optimism and concerns with each other – the beer world is still very collegial here. Here are some facts and figures for you – and again no definition of “craft beer” really is was offered.

The Brewers Association (BA), which has been organizing the conference for decades now, did offer a good definition of “quality beer” – the quality of beers, new on the market, is often a source of concern since not every new brewer is as well-equipped as the other. In the eyes of the BA it comes down to: “Quality Beer is beer responsibly produced using wholesome ingredients, consistent brewing techniques and good manufacturing processes, which exhibits flavor characteristics that are consistently aligned with both the brewer’s and the beer drinker’s expectations.” There’s not a word of Chinese in there! Perhaps Holland’s CRAFT can copy-paste this definition into its increasingly sophisticated set of agreements and definitions of what makes the independent brewers in the Netherlands!

Bart Watson, econometrist which the BA, delivered some cool figures: the joint US Craft Brewers (yes, there is a definition of a craft brewery, but not for Craft Beer) achieved a market share of 12,3% in 2016 in volume, which translated into a whopping 21.9% value share. In other words, by selling about an eighth of the volume of beer in America craft brewers get more than a fifth of the money that America spends on beer, an impressive number. It gets really weird when you consider that the two largest breweries, for reasons of convenience called Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors, in the last fifteen years together lost 25 million barrels (nearly three million hectoliters of beer) of annually produced beer – almost as much as the amount of beer that craft brewers now sell each year in America – but they are more profitable than ever. Their revenue per hectolitre has increased so much that they literally make more money selling less beer. Just think about that…

And what about the craft brewers – do they still grow? Yes and no. The huge numbers of recent years, where breweries producing 150,000 hectoliters managed to grow 30, 40 or even 60% each year, have gone. But that is not surprising: to measure the base increases, the percentages have to be smaller, it is otherwise virtually unsustainable growth. And so Bart Watson showed that the entire growth of craft brewers last year may have been ‘a mere 6%’ (influenced and corrected for the disappearance of breweries sold to non-craft brewers) but this was still the fifth best year ever. Considering extra volume sold was 1.4 million barrels, or 1.65 million hectoliters were added to the market. It is getting busier though. Growth is becoming less for the ‘regional breweries’, those who produce more than 20 000 hectoliters and sell in several states, and almost all growth comes from brewpubs and microbreweries. Locally, and so ended Bart, “Local remains king!”. Later I will elaborate on these data – but also in the Netherlands I believe the future is for the brew pub, and the local tasting room, so much seems clear for me.


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