|Glass Half Full: The Beer Industry's New Golden Age
By: Kaitlin T. Gallucci
America’s beer business is booming, according to William Bostwick, co-author of Beer Craft. The first “Golden Age” of American beer occurred in 1873, with over 4,000 American breweries in operation. That number steadily dropped until the Prohibition Era halted all legal production. Post-Prohibition, the industry has slowly but surely been making a comeback.
In 1980, there were only 44 American breweries in business — today, there are over 1,500, the most since pre-Prohibition. Between 1993 and 1994 alone, approximately 200 breweries opened. As Bostwick explains, “Today's golden age of beer has been a long time coming. We haven't drank this much beer from this many breweries for a hundred years.”
Brand-wise, most of today’s American beer comes from 2 “monstrous brewing conglomerates,” Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. However, about 97% of operational American breweries are small, independently-owned craft breweries. Bostwick explains, “The big are at their biggest, but the underdogs are gaining steam.”
While household names Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors own much of the beer market, craft beer has grown in popularity. Beginning in the 1970s and booming in the 1990s, craft beer is once again gaining volume and dollars, while the rest of the beer industry idles. In 2009, U.S. beer sales fell overall, while craft beer sales grew by 7.2%, with the dollar value of craft beer growing by 10.3%.
The appeal of the homemade, independent, “mom-and-pop” business has changed the face of the industry. Brewers Association director Paul Gatza explained, “Americans have an increasing appreciation of craft beers, and the growing number of brewers behind them. They’re eager to try the latest seasonal release and to sample a variety of beers from different breweries.”
More breweries means more brands on the shelf, and more brands means more competition. Add in the increasingly popular trend of homebrewing and the appeal of craft breweries, and the American beer industry has re-emerged, more dynamic than ever — and full of potential.
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