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.
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).
|1||DG Yuengling & Son||Pottsville||PA|
|2||Boston Beer Co||Boston, Milton||MA, DE|
|*3||Sierra Nevada Brewing Co||Chico||CA|
|*4||Duvel Moortgat USA (Including Firestone Walker)||Paso Robles, Kansas City, Cooperstown||CA, MO, NY|
|Berkeley, Shiner||CA, TX|
|6||Bell’s Brewery, Inc||Comstock||MI|
|7||CANarchy (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|
|8||Artisanal Brewing Ventures||Downingtown, Lakewood, Brooklyn||PA, NY, NY|
|10||SweetWater Brewing Co||Atlanta||GA|
|12||New Glarus Brewing Co||New Glarus||WI|
|14||Matt Brewing Co||Utica||NY|
|*15||Gordon Biersch Brewing Co||San Jose||CA|
|16||Abita Brewing Co||Covington||LA|
|17||Minhas Craft Brewery||Monroe||WI|
|18||Stevens Point Brewery||Stevens Point||WI|
|19||Great Lakes Brewing Company||Cleveland||OH|
|20||Odell Brewing Co||Fort Collins||CO|
|22||Summit Brewing Co||Saint Paul||MN|
|23||Allagash Brewing Company||Portland||ME|
|24||Troegs Brewing Co||Hershey||PA|
|25||Georgetown Brewing Co||Seattle||WA|
|26||Three Floyds Brewing||Munster||IN|
|27||Athletic Brewing Company (The non-alcoholic brewery|
that seemingly leapt onto the charts this year. Now brewing
in San Diego, too.)
|29||Kona Brewing Co||Kailua-Kona||HI|
|30||August Schell Brewing Company||New Ulm||MN|
|31||Alaskan Brewing Co||Juneau||AK|
|32||Narragansett Brewing Co||Pawtucket||RI|
|33||Rogue Ales Brewery||Newport||OR|
|*34||Kings & Convicts Brewing/Ballast Point||San Diego||CA|
|35||Flying Dog Brewery||Frederick||MD|
|36||Long Trail Brewing Co||Bridgewater Corners||VT|
|*37||Lost Coast Brewery||Eureka||CA|
|39||Surly Brewing Company||Minneapolis||MN|
|40||Ninkasi Brewing Co||Eugene||OR|
|41||Creature Comforts Brewing Co||Athens||GA|
|*42||21st Amendment Brewery||Bay Area||CA|
|43||Maui Brewing Co||Kihei||HI|
|44||Saint Arnold Brewing Co||Houston||TX|
|45||Scofflaw Brewing Co||Atlanta||GA|
|46||Shipyard Brewing Co||Portland||ME|
|47||Left Hand Brewing Company||Longmont||CO|
|*48||Modern Times Drinks |
(The Oakland taproom
|*50||North Coast Brewing Co Inc||Fort Bragg||CA|
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.