We called this one back in September, but now the hard numbers are talking for us. Craft breweries are buzzing while traditional beer brewers are feeling more of the hangover from their former heyday. According to new numbers recently released by the Brewers Association, reported on by National Public Radio on Tuesday, craft beer sales jumped 20 percent last year, making up nearly 8 percent of all beer sales in the United States. And that’s not all. Matt Simpson, owner of The Beer Sommelier, explained to The Salt that the movement away from “fizzy, yellow, uninteresting, adjunct-laden lagers” reflects an American palate that has become more mature and sophisticated. So maybe those hipsters with their homegrown IPAs shouldn’t be made fun of, after all.
In its report, NPR points out that craft beer is everywhere now, and it is easy to see where reporter Laurel White gets her logic. You can find the brews in restaurants, bars, and supermarket aisles, and though in the past craft beer was only thought to be a favorite of hipsters or beer drinkers who purposefully separated themselves from the crowd, the beers are quickly becoming brews that are enjoyed by everyone, not only those with beards and an IPA glued to their hands. Bart Watson, staff economist at the Brewers Association, reports that craft beer has averaged a 10.9 percent growth over the last decade. He said to NPR, ”Beer drinkers are excited about what small and independent brewers are offering, and that is evidenced by the rising production and sales of the craft segment.”
And it turns out that he’s not kidding. According to NPR, there were 2,768 breweries in operations in the United States last year, up from 2,300 in 2012, per numbers from the Brewers Association. To fit the “craft” brewery distinction, a facility must be “small, independent, and traditional,” NPR said Tuesday. A small facility can’t provide any more than 6 million barrels of beer annually; an independent facility has less than 25 percent of the craft brewery owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member; and a traditional facility has to brew most of its alcoholic beverages to have flavor that derives from “traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.”
Of course, traditional companies like Anheuser Busch InBev (NYSE:BUD) and Miller Coors (NYSE:TAP) are still buddying up regularly with seasoned beer drinkers, but these companies’ products are now finding their way toward the back of more than one refrigerator. As the number of craft options continues to grow, adding more diversity to the beer market, customers have many more drinks to choose from, and they just might not be reaching for Bud Light or Coors as much as they used to.
The great thing about up-and-coming craft beers is that many breweries cater to many different beer-drinking palates. That means that no matter what flavors customers favor, there’s a craft beer for them. NPR reports that many craft brewers are “redefining the frontiers of beer flavor” and giving way to flavors like sour beers, beer-wine mashups, gluten-free craft beers, and more. It’s not time for traditional brewers to run for the hills just yet, but it is high time they start keeping an eye on their newer competitors.