Saturday, June 9, 2007

Micro Brew?

Warning: This is a post of thoughts, incomplete and unedited. I don't have conclusions, and barely can claim to have points.

The Brewers Association recently put out their top 50 list of craft brewers in the USA, and the list had few surprises for those who keep track of these things - Boston Beer Company at the top of the list, followed up by Sierra Nevada. Many beer writers around the country have noted the continued growth in the craft beer segement, holding the stats out whenever possible. While that is very good news, there was one stat amongst them all that really stood out to me. I'll warn you now, I don't have a developed and tested theory here, just the beginnings of a thought process I'd like to share.

The stats?
- just under 1,400 "craft" brewers in the USA
- 34 of the top 50 brewers in the US are "craft" breweries, as defined by BA
- 77% of all craft beer sold in the US comes from the top 50 craft brewers
(see all the stats)

Overall, great news for those who like good beer. However, I can't help but wonder about a few things. Primarily, there are nearly 1,400 breweries in the US making "craft beer", yet nearly 80% of all craft beer sales come from 50 companies. I would dare to suggest, without a lot of investigation, that this indicates a regional brewing trend around the country - which is cool, but certainly not synonomous with "micro brewing" as we seem so apt to say. Did that come out right? Seems like most beer enthusiasts I know interchange the words "Craft Beer" with "Microbrew", yet if 50 of the 1400 brewers sell the lion's share of the beer - they certainly aren't 'Ma-n-Pop' places I often think of with small brewers.

Are they good? Well, this is also a touchy thing. Yes, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium (#3) all make wonderful beers, by any measure. What about the others? After looking at the list in depth, I'm a little shocked and happy to say that they're all good breweries - with some hesitation around Pyramid at number 4. You've seen my thoughts on the chain brewery BJ's, and I was at first aprehensive about Gordon Biersch - then remembered how much I liked their doppelbock... so, yeah, a good brewery.

Final surprise - 2 of the top 50 brewers are from Utah. I admit, that surprises me. Why? Probably evidence of some sort of unspoken prejudice. Luckily, I have tried beers from both of these brewers and am happy to say I thoroughly enjoyed both (Wassatch & Uinta).