I'll Have Another . . .
By: Sid Robinson
Thanks to craft beer’s rapid explosion into the mainstream marketplace, there are now more breweries currently operating in the United States than at any other time in our nation’s history.
The number of operating breweries in the U.S. grew 15 percent in 2015 to 4,269, according to data released March 22 by the Brewers Association, the trade association representing small and independent American craft brewers. Small and independent craft brewers now represent 12 percent market share of the overall beer industry.
The increase in the country’s total number of breweries might seem like a logical progression, but the figure only topped 4,000 in 2015 for the first time since the late 1800s. The previous peak number of American breweries was 4,131 in 1873. Social pressure began to drive out the neighborhood brewers, and eventually Prohibition shuttered all beer makers (at least legally). When the “Noble Experiment” was repealed in 1933, only a handful of breweries returned to operation. The big breweries survived, fending off competition from hundreds of others over the next half-century. By the late 1970s, there were fewer than 50 brewing companies operating a low of only 89 U.S. breweries.
Up until the early 1980s, just about the only American beer to be found in bars and on shelves was lighter lager—mass-produced and devoid of character, flavor and tradition (what today Stone Brewing Co. refers to a “fizzy yellow beer”). The nation’s top 10 brewers controlled 93 percent of the market, which was dominated by the likes of Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing Co., Pabst Brewing Co., Joseph Schlitz Brewing and Adolph Coors Co.
In the background, the seeds of the craft beer movement were being sewn, led by San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing. New American beers were born.
While it’s unlikely we’ll ever approach the per-capita numbers from the pre-Prohibition era, the growth of the industry remains very healthy. Small and independent breweries now account for 99 percent of the breweries in operation. Of those, 2,397 are classified as microbreweries, 1,650 as brewpubs and 178 as regional craft breweries. There were 620 new brewery openings last year and only 68 closings.
If it’s not obvious by now, the future of the beer industry is with the small craft breweries and not the big beer producers. Right now, the world’s greatest beer is being made here in the U.S. Locally, the Inland Empire welcomed the 2015 opening of Old Stump Brewery in Pomona and the educational Innovation Brew Works at Cal Poly Pomona, as well as Escape Brewery in Redlands. Chino Valley Brewery, which had been temporarily closed, reopened at a new location in Ontario.
Looking ahead to this year and beyond, no fewer than five breweries are in the works to open in Rancho Cucamonga. Oggi’s Pizza and Brewing Company’s debut in Upland is imminent, and Whitewater Brewers will join the growing contingent of Upland breweries later in the year. Other craft breweries are on tap for 2016 in Montclair, Pomona, Ontario, Yucaipa and elsewhere. But the biggest local opening is scheduled for 2017 just west of the Inland Empire in Azusa, where Lagunitas is building a 178,000-square-foot facility that is anticipated to produce 420,000 barrels a year.
In total, U.S. craft brewers produced 24.5 million barrels in 2015, according to the Brewers Association report. That accounted for a 13 percent rise in beer production volume and a 16 percent increase in retail dollar value, which was estimated at $22.3 billion, representing 21 percent of the market share.
Combined with already existing and established breweries and brewpubs, craft brewers provided nearly 122,000 jobs in 2015, an increase of more than 6,000 from the previous year.