Don’t Trust Anyone Over 30
A lot has changed in the 30 years that the Celebrator has been covering the good-beer story. Every state in the nation now boasts a beer scene of some sort. The total number of breweries has exploded, with over 6,000 breweries or brewpubs operating in the country. An astonishing 900 breweries are now operating in the state of California alone — triple the number from just five years ago and way beyond the 20 or so that were brewing when the California Celebrator first hit the streets in 1988.
However, the rate of brewery closings is also increasing, suggesting a disturbing future for many passionate and dedicated brewing entities. Numerous towns continue to recruit breweries as the centerpiece for redeveloping distressed areas. Banks continue to seek out breweries as a solid business investment. The question remains: Who is going to buy and enjoy all this beer?
Craft beer continues to see percentage growth that is the envy of the wine and spirits industries. But the days of double-digit growth rates seem to have passed. A nervous industry accustomed to rapid expansion now addresses the reality of diminishing growth and a more fastidious fan base. Flagship craft beers (Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, New Belgium Fat Tire, etc.) have been hit particularly hard.
Craft production volume increases tracked by the Brewers Association in Boulder, Colo., showed a precipitous drop in 2016 (to just 6%), down from 13% in 2015 and a hefty 18% in 2014. A trend that cannot be ignored.
“Giving lie to the free speech movement’s old adage from Berkeley in the mid-’60s, the Celebrator Beer News remains as trustworthy and truth-telling as it has been for the past three decades. The original ‘brewspaper’ still eschews fake news and calls out fake brews in its effort to inform and educate aficionados of good (and better) beer, as well as the simply beer-curious, even now that it has hit the Big Three-Oh!” — Tomm Carroll
It should also be noted that craft production numbers have been diminished by the acquisition of dozens of formerly “craft” brewers by Big Beer (AB InBev, Heineken, Constellation Brands). Former craft brewers like Ballast Point, Lagunitas and Goose Island are no longer included in the “craft beer” stats. The continued growth would seem to be from the smaller “micros” and brewpubs that are opening at a rapid rate.
Brewery closings, however, are another matter. Some 97 breweries closed in 2016, up from 68 closures in 2015 and just 46 the year before that. While smaller breweries and brewpubs continue to develop their own fan base, regional brewers committed to particular brand production are less able to adapt to the “newest thing” attracting consumer interest.
Regional powerhouse and “legacy” brewery Smuttynose in New Hampshire just announced that its business and brewery will be put up for auction in March. Owner Peter Egelston said the company’s finances were based on 20 years of consistent growth, according to The Boston Globe. Egelston cited turmoil in the marketplace as the reason for the brewery’s loss of sales and dire financial situation.
Growth of a fan base is slower and more organic. Craft beer lovers continue to spread the word of good beer and enjoy the bounty of the producers, large and small, now making some of the best beers ever made. A good time to be a beer lover — a cautionary time for brewers.
The Next 30 Years
While celebrating our 30th year of publication, we also look to the future of our beloved craft beer industry. Covering the story has been and will continue to be a labor of love for our talented and knowledgeable writing staff. The Celebrator Beer News simply wouldn’t be possible without the continued input of this diverse and passionate group of beer scribes seeking out and recording the world of beer as they see it and taste it around the country and the globe. Cheers to another 30!