Reviewing the latest production report from the Brewers Association, I found myself glossing over data showing the craft beer industry was trending toward pre-pandemic growth, ruminating on the idea that one of the top 50 major craft breweries in the country had never made alcoholic beer.
Athletic Brewing Co., a pioneer in the world of non-alcoholic beer, rose to number 27 on the BA’s list of the country’s 50 largest craft breweries. It’s not a surprising development if you’ve been following Athletic’s inflated production numbers and perhaps all the stories in recent months about the popularity of NA beers. Since brewing around 7,500 barrels in 2019, the Connecticut brewery has ballooned, brewing 37,500 barrels in 2020 and climbing to more than 100,000 last year.
I’m not shocked by Athletic’s rise and won’t be when they crack the top 10 soon, which at their current rate seems inevitable. Other breweries will certainly take notice, and we will begin to see more and varied NA beers flooding the market.
Speaking last week on the BA report, its chief economist, Bart Watson, said such explosive growth is rare these days.
“One thing that certainly makes it a bit more impressive is that it’s a more mature cottage industry. Those kinds of eye-popping numbers are certainly less common today than they were four or five years ago. , where you regularly get a few breweries on the list that have grown by leaps and bounds,” he said.
Behind Athletic’s rise, the biggest news in the The BA report was craft beer’s rebound in 2021: craft beer grew 8% last year, increasing its overall volume market share to 13.1% and nearly erasing 2020’s 9% decline. This year , the BA expects the industry to return to pre-pandemic numbers thanks to the strong return of brewery, restaurant, bar and bar sales, also known as “on-premises”.
“If we continue to see a pick-up in this channel shift, especially during the summer, which is a big beer sales period for craft brewers, I think we’ll be back to those 2019 levels in 2022,” he said. said Watson.
According to the BA, small independent breweries generated $26.8 billion in retail sales, which represents about 27% of the $100 billion national beer market. And the number of craft breweries in the country has increased to 9,118 from 8,905 in 2020.
This will be a two-part column on the BA’s annual data dump, as I expect to have its state-by-state data in the coming weeks. So far, we know eight New England breweries made the top 50 last year: Allagash Brewing Co. in Maine, Athletic, Boston Beer Co., Harpoon Brewery, Vermont’s Fiddlehead Brewing, Long Trail Brewing Co. in Vermont, Narragansett Brewing Co. in Rhode Island and Shipyard Brewing Co. in Maine.
The only wrinkle in the BA forecast for 2022 was that brewery closures appear to be trending higher and could end higher than last year, which saw 178 closures compared to 646 new brewery openings. A variety of factors are to blame, Watson said, from expiring leases to difficulty securing COVID-19 relief funds. But one of the main causes is that some brewers are having a harder time recovering from the pandemic than others.
“Even with a rebound year, many breweries are still grappling with the effects of the pandemic, and so 2022 could be a breakthrough year,” Watson said.