Much of the beer world’s attention over the past week has focused on the Great American Oktoberfest. However, the week also marked another milestone in the resurgence of local American brewing, with the Brewers Association’s database surpassing 4,000 active breweries. Although specific figures of the 19and century are difficult to confirm, this is almost certainly the first time the United States has broken the 4,000 brewery barrier since the 1870s.
Van Wieren (1995) notes that the Internal Revenue Department had 2,830 “operating beer and lager breweries” in 1880, down from a peak of 4,131 in 1873. Given the steady pace of openings (about two openings /day with a net increase of 1.9/day taking into account closures), it is likely that later in 2015, or early 2016, there will be more active breweries in the United States than at present. any time in our nation’s history. This is a remarkable achievement that would have been unthinkable in the late 1970s when the number of American breweries fell below 100.
More recently, it seems that I was writing a short time ago about surpassing the 3,000 brewery mark, and many of the same thoughts still apply: the continued return to a localization of beer production and the future growth potential balanced by ever increasing competition and future challenges for breweries to differentiate themselves. I will also repeat what I said then:
What this does not mean is that we have reached a saturation point. Most new entrants continue to be small and local, operating in neighborhoods or cities. What it means to be a brewery is changing, towards a time when breweries were largely local and operated as a neighborhood bar or restaurant.
How many neighborhoods in the country could still benefit from a high-quality craft brewery or micro-tavern? While a return to the per capita ratio of 1873 seems unlikely (which would mean over 30,000 breweries), the resurgence of American brewing is far from over.
The past 15+ months have confirmed this assertion as the American brewing map has continued to diversify. There are now breweries in over 2,000 unique cities in all 50 states. At the same time, there are also nearly 1,000 towns with populations over 10,000 that do not yet have a local brewery, and many neighborhoods in major cities without a local brewery or tavern. As American beer culture continues to deepen and spread, there are still many opportunities for well-differentiated, high-quality entrants. So, to all the hard-working brewers/brewery staff who have made 4,000 breweries a reality, and to the next wave of innovative participants to follow, well done!
Definition of the BA brewery:
The Brewers Association brewery count is based on the number of brewing facilities actively selling beer in the marketplace. This requires having a TTB brewers notice and paying federal beer excise taxes. Also, this count only includes brewing installations that are not counted as someone else’s installation (to avoid double counting). This means that it does not count breweries in planning or work-study ventures, which may be included when only counting brewing licenses, or contract brewers, which do not have notice to brewers. Unlike the US Census Bureau figures, which are based on North American Industrial Classification System (NAICS) codes, it counts breweries and other breweries that engage in business activities beyond brewing, assuming they meet the above criteria.