The State Of Craft Beer – 2018

One of the highlights of the Craft Brewers Conference, which recently wrapped up four days of industry talk and serious drinking in Denver, was the “State of the Craft Beer Industry” address.

And this year’s keynote was good news and bad…

On Wednesday morning thousands of CBC attendees (many of them sporting epic hangovers) made their way to the Colorado Convention Center’s Bellco Theater for The State of The Craft Beer Industry keynote.

A tag team effort helmed Brewers Association Director Paul Gatza and Chief Economist Bart Watson, this annual presentation is like getting one’s physical results, only for the craft beer biz. And the primary takeaway from this year’s gathering is that the industry has matured and we’d better get used to it.

The good news for craft beer professionals is that the industry is still growing. Total brewing volume, (the main statistic the Brewers Association uses to track its constituency) rose 4 percent in 2018 to more than 25.9 million barrels.

Bart Watson: Photo © Brewers Association

Craft beer sales rose too…$27.6 billion is a very decent number for any industry…up 7 percent over 2017’s numbers.

But four percent growth is a far cry from the kind momentum the craft beer industry has enjoyed for so many years. Explosive growth that has led to more than 7300 breweries currently operating in the US.

“In 2014, craft brewing production grew by 18 percent, The Denver Post reports. “The year before that it was 17 percent after growing 15 percent in 2012.” And this slowing growth comes amid record brewery openings in 2018…as well as record closings.

And the overall beer market continues to struggle…

According to 2018 data, total U.S. beer sales (which is indicative of the health of Big Beer conglomerates like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, as well as craft brewers) was down by almost 1 percent in 2018. A trend that according to Watson, was reflective of the decline in alcohol consumption by younger consumers in general.

And while Watson kept things positive on the craft beer side of things, it was impossible to escape his cautionary concerns for the industry’s future…

“Craft and imports continue to be the things that are driving the beer market forward even in a very challenging market for overall beer.”

“Companies need to think about how they can still be relevant in a market where we are going to see thousands of new breweries open…This is a trend. It isn’t going away.”

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