The 50 Biggest Craft Breweries Are Making a Lot of Beer

And Happily, the Other 9,068 Breweries Are Doing Pretty Much OK, Too

The Brewers Association released their annual rankings of the “Top 50 Producing US Craft Brewing Companies” yesterday along with optimistic statistics about the “small and independent” sector in general. The big list features the largest fifty out of 9,118 operating brewing companies in terms of production quantity.

[ California is on the map with a large selection of the biggest Craft beer companies ]

Along with the big fifty list comes a preliminary annual overview of the commercial scale of American beer. And yes, the craft beer sector, by the BA definition, is still growing, essentially back from the Covid 19 dropoff in production.

The barrel total for 2021, painstakingly pulled from a variety of governmental reports, sales data and self-reporting from BA members, was just shy of 25 million barrels of beer, up 8%, despite restrictions for on-premise drinking and dining in various areas of the nation for health reasons during parts of the year.

The total volume of craft beer (by the BA definition of small and independent) continues to account for an increasing portion of the total beer brewed in the nation, hitting 13.1% in 2021, up from 12.2% in 2020. So the very large brewing companies are still seeing their share of production erode slightly.

On the Rebound

Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, hosted a video press conference Tuesday where he further interpreted the numbers. In short, his reading of the pictures that his spreadsheets paint is that Craft Breweries are rebounding. The pace of openings and closures have both slowed somewhat, interpreted as functions of the maturing craft beer marketplace as well as the results of pandemic disruptions. Some breweries still call themselves “temporarily” closed. These may turn into final closures in the wake of the pandemic. Perhaps the next year will see more than one kind of post-pandemic adjustment – such as both this expected uptick in closures of those who are barely hanging on and an uptick of delayed openings – as the economy catches up and dreams are rekindled. Overall, the picture looks good. Watson’s prognosis from crunching the numbers shows growth continuing, though at an expectedly slower pace than in the last decade.

Eagle-eyed journalists compare these lists each year. One outlier that journalists on the press conference call noticed was an unexpected newcomer in the middle of the list. Athletic Brewing Company, a non-alcoholic craft brewing company, leaped into the big leagues at position number 27. (This rocket to the top tier is likely explained by noticing that 2019 and 2020 showed Two Roads Brewing out of Connecticut on the top 50, and credible sources have noted that that brewery had been producing Athletic’s NA beers under contract in recent years, before Athletic bought their own production facilities.)

A Taste of Success

With a Sierra Nevada taproom in Berkeley and two 21st Amendment locations in San Leandro and the original SF brewpub, there are three places to visit by BART, ferry and bus to tip your hat to the accomplishments of large craft beer companies locally. In particular, the San Leandro 21A facility gives a good impression of how massive operations have to be to play on this level in the brewing world, even if you simply visit the taproom and peer around a little. (Trumer in Berkeley is not open for tasting but is a good place to check out at the California Craft Brewers Association benefit festival during SF Beer Week.)

Gordon Biersch, south of the current BART transit footprint in San Jose, brews its own branded beers and also contracts to produce beers with store brands (such as Trader Joe’s) and as an assist for smaller breweries. The one Gordon Biersch branded place to have a beer here in the Bay Area, where the brewery began, is inside Terminal 1 at SFO, as many have learned when flights are delayed.

(Why would a brewer get help making beer from other breweries? We recently spoke with a brewer who told us about getting the taproom flagship hazy IPA brewed by another operation so the production crew could focus on making a variety of other beers rather than managing the production of that one crowd-pleasing beast over and over again. Buying new fermentors or building out more production space and increasing staffing is incredibly expensive. While some companies have relied entirely on contracted brews, there are many reasons active brewers make this arrangement with a third party.)

Top 50 Craft Brewing Companies by Barrels of Beer Brewed in 2021

The slightly annotated list that follows is not a list of brands or facilities, but a list of companies that brew beer. Seltzers and any similar products that can be legally made by a brewing company but are not beer have been excluded from the output. California breweries are *starred and our explanatory comments are in (parentheses).

1DG Yuengling & Son PottsvillePA
2Boston Beer CoBoston, MiltonMA, DE
*3Sierra Nevada Brewing CoChicoCA
*4Duvel Moortgat USA (Including Firestone Walker)Paso Robles, Kansas City, CooperstownCA, MO, NY
(Including Trumer)
Berkeley, ShinerCA, TX
6Bell’s Brewery, IncComstockMI
7CANarchy (Owned by a
big bev company but
not a big brewery. Changes to the definition of Craft
may be on the horizon)
Longmont, Tampa, Salt Lake City, Comstock, Dallas CO, FL, UT, MI, TX
8Artisanal Brewing VenturesDowningtown, Lakewood, BrooklynPA, NY, NY
*9Stone BrewingEscondidoCA
10SweetWater Brewing CoAtlantaGA
11Deschutes BreweryBendOR
12New Glarus Brewing CoNew GlarusWI
13Brooklyn BreweryBrooklynNY
14Matt Brewing CoUticaNY
*15Gordon Biersch Brewing CoSan JoseCA
16Abita Brewing CoCovingtonLA
17Minhas Craft BreweryMonroeWI
18Stevens Point BreweryStevens PointWI
19Great Lakes Brewing CompanyClevelandOH
20Odell Brewing CoFort CollinsCO
21Harpoon BreweryBostonMA
22Summit Brewing CoSaint PaulMN
23Allagash Brewing CompanyPortlandME
24Troegs Brewing CoHersheyPA
25Georgetown Brewing CoSeattleWA
26Three Floyds BrewingMunsterIN
27Athletic Brewing Company (The non-alcoholic brewery
that seemingly leapt onto the charts this year. Now brewing
in San Diego, too.)
28Rhinegeist BreweryCincinnatiOH
29Kona Brewing CoKailua-KonaHI
30August Schell Brewing CompanyNew UlmMN
31Alaskan Brewing CoJuneauAK
32Narragansett Brewing CoPawtucketRI
33Rogue Ales BreweryNewportOR
*34Kings & Convicts Brewing/Ballast PointSan DiegoCA
35Flying Dog BreweryFrederickMD
36Long Trail Brewing CoBridgewater CornersVT
*37Lost Coast BreweryEurekaCA
38Revolution BrewingChicagoIL
39Surly Brewing CompanyMinneapolisMN
40Ninkasi Brewing CoEugeneOR
41Creature Comforts Brewing CoAthensGA
*4221st Amendment BreweryBay AreaCA
43Maui Brewing CoKiheiHI
44Saint Arnold Brewing CoHoustonTX
45Scofflaw Brewing CoAtlantaGA
46Shipyard Brewing CoPortlandME
47Left Hand Brewing CompanyLongmontCO
*48Modern Times Drinks
(The Oakland taproom
recently closed)
San DiegoCA
49Fiddlehead BrewingShelburneVT
*50North Coast Brewing Co IncFort BraggCA
[Chart from BA Press Release – annotations in italic and California companies starred]

Dig into this BA annual report on their site. They also include a second list showing the 50 largest breweries when you do not exclude the industry giants and all the brands and breweries they now own, including Anchor, Magnolia/New Belgian and Lagunitas from our region.

Did we miss anything interesting? We’d love to hear your comments. (For those who really want to sift through the economics of local and national beer, more details are released by the BA annually at the upcoming Craft Brewers Conference, and there are additional interactive charts here.)

Standard Deviant Abides

While the big players on the national scene provide some context, one of the great pieces of news from the BA was that so many beloved smaller local places around the nation – far too many to list -survive and many are thriving.

Recently, we heard a rumor that Standard Deviant Brewing Co. in San Francisco was closed! Since we have lost a few local breweries, fact checking was in order. Happily, a quick field trip to the taproom in the Mission District debunked that grim fiction. The taps are flowing with both new and familiar beers (Porter, anyone?) while people who evidently scoff at rumors are happily gathering. Standard Deviant is still firmly in the Venn diagram of open and brewing its own beers. And that’s significant.

Here’s to the craft and passion all along the “long tail” of craft breweries when ranked by size. Get out there and calculate your own internal rankings according to what you like to do and taste.

Explore Beer By BART: Use our acclaimed destination list of some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best beer places and their related transit info, so you can get out there to enjoy without driving.

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