A battle has been heating up between craft beer and "big beer"
for the past few years. And 2013 beer production data is painting
an interesting picture.
I visited the Great American Beer Festival this year in
Denver, the annual competition in which America's best breweries
compete for top honors. The scene was frenzied, an event that
sold out in minutes and filled the Colorado Convention
580 breweries from every state and with brands as large as
Anheuser Busch's (
Budweiser sampled 2,700 unique beers during the three day
festival. One thing was clear to all 49,000 attendees, the craft
beer industry is thriving.
What's the difference between "craft beer" and "big beer?"
Craft breweries produce less than six million barrels of beer
per year. Microbreweries are those producing less than
15,000 barrels. Everything else we'll call "big beer."
Today, Sam Adams producer
Boston Beer (
makes around three million barrels between its Sam Adams, Twisted
Tea and Angry Orchard brands, qualifying it large, but still a
Craft beers tend to have strong regional and local followings,
rather than a national following. So what do does the data show
about craft beer trends?
Despite global beer production falling 1.4%, craft beer
production was up 9.6% in 2013. The number of craft breweries is
way up as well. Just take a look at the chart below from the
Craft beer industry group Brewers Association reports that 1.2
breweries open every single day. With more than 2,500 breweries
operating in the U.S. alone, the industry supports more than
You may have noticed that the draft list at your local bar has
changed considerably in the last few years.
It wasn't long ago that draft choices were essentially limited
to Anheuser Busch's Bud and Bud Light, Coors and Coors Light from
Molson Coors Brewing Company (
and perhaps Guinness, a brand owned by
. The tavern closest to my home serves 20 draft beers, including
12 from craft breweries. Sure, this is anecdotal, but the draft
list looks pretty similar across the country.
Why is craft beer outperforming big beer?
"The innovative nature of these craft brewers has driven this
market," says a representative of the Brewers Association. "Every
brewer in the market seems like they're brewing something new
that you've never heard of."
But "craft" doesn't just mean bacon-infused porters,
dry-hopped IPAs and jalapeno flavored red ales.
While a large segment of the beer drinking population still
prefers the Bud and Bud Light of the world, the craft beer
drinking population seems to have grown bored with these
offerings and moved on.
Even the big beer companies recognize this trend.
These days all of the major beer companies have "craft"
offerings. For example Shock Top is a Belgian-style wheat beer
owned by Anheuser Busch. Blue Moon is similar to Shock Top,
except that it is owned by MillerCoors. Both brands are
positioned as "craft" beers even though their ownership is "big
Craft beer is becoming big business. The Brewers Association
reported in late 2013 that the overall economic contribution of
craft breweries is approaching $34 billion.
The large beer producers will benefit from the growth of craft
beer through their "craft" brands. Anheuser Busch is up 8% in the
last year while Molson Coors is up 25%. But brands like Boston
Craft Brew Alliance (
are the real winners in the category, with direct exposure to the
explosive growth of craft beer.
Shares of the two companies are up 51% and 146% respectively
over the last year and poised to move higher as craft beer
continues to grow.
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