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There are more craft breweries in the United States now than at any time since 1900. So why can't craft beer's biggest fans stop complaining?

In 1900 there were 1751 breweries in the United States. In 1983, after decades of consolidation there were 80, six of which were brewing 96% of all the beer in the U.S. But once a few pioneering craft brewers began to reintroduce good beer to the American public in the 1980’s, the pendulum began its backward swing – In 2011, craft brewing history came full circle, with over 1750 small breweries once again operating, from sea to shining sea.

Visual.ly, a data visualization company on a mission to transform dry stats into engaging stories, gave the history of brewing their creative treatment -

The American Beer Revival from visually on Vimeo.

In summary:

  • 1900: 1751 breweries are operating  in the U.S.
  • 1910’s: The temperance movement gains momentum.
  • 1919: Prohibition is passed, outlawing all production and consumption of alcoholic beverages.
  • 1930’s: No breweries are operating legally, but illicit homebrewing flourishes, producing about 22 million barrels a year.
  • 1933: Prohibition is repealed.
  • 1936: Over 750 brewers are back in action.
  • 1940’s: Grain rationing for Word War II slows growth in the brewing industry.
  • 1950’s: Beer production increases, but the number of breweries begins to decline, as consolidation takes the brewing industry (and pretty much everything else) by storm.
  • 1983: Only 80 breweries are in opertation, and the six largest brew 96% of all beer in the U.S. (and it pretty much all sucks).
  • 1990’s: Microbreweries start making good beer again, and as people rediscover good beer, the craft brewing renaissance begins.  Some tie this to the maturation of the first generation of ‘legalized’ homebrewers -  Jimmy Carter re-legalized homebrewing in 1978.
  • 2000’s: After a big expansion, a small slowdown in growth of craft brewing.
  • 2011 – After 111 years, over 1750 breweries are once again in operation. Today, craft breweries consist of 96 % of total breweries in the U.S., but the big breweries still totally dominate sales, holding down 92.4% of the market.

All good news, right? Well, for the most part.  With success, of course, comes scrutiny. While American craft brewers are pushing brewing in ever-more experimental directions, and as good beer is ever-more accessible in ever-more places, beer geeks seem ever-more to love to scrutinize and nit-pick every mad-genius brewer’s latest release, and any kind of move to expand operations, with high school-style mean girl  glee.

Sam Calagione, the founder of Delaware’s wildly successful Dogfish Brewing Company, recently decided enough was enough. Responding to a popular thread in a forum on Beeradvocate’s website about over-rated breweries, he wrote:

“It’s pretty depressing to frequently visit this site and see the most negative threads among the most popular. This didn’t happen much ten years ago when craft beer had something like a 3 percent market share. Flash forward to today, and true indie craft beer now has a still-tiny but growing marketshare of just over 5 percent. Yet so many folks that post here still spend their time knocking down breweries that dare to grow. It’s like that old joke: “Nobody eats at that restaurant anymore, it’s too crowded.” Except the “restaurants” that people shit on here aren’t exactly juggernauts. In fact, aside from Boston Beer, none of them have anything even close to half of one percent marketshare. The more that retailers, distributors, and large industrial brewers consolidate the more fragile the current growth momentum of the craft segment becomes. The more often the Beer Advocate community becomes a soap box for outing breweries for daring to grow beyond its insider ranks the more it will be marginalized in the movement to support, promote, and protect independent American craft breweries.

It’s interesting how many posts that refer to Dogfish being over-rated include a caveat like “except for Palo…except for Immort…etc.” We all have different palettes which is why it’s a great thing that there are so many different beers… We hope a bunch of you will…try some of the very unique new beers we are proudly bringing to market like Tweason’ale (a champagne-esque, gluten-free beer fermented with buckwheat honey and strawberries) and Noble Rot (a sort of saison brewed with Botrytis-infected Viognier Grape must). One of these beers is on the sweeter side and one is more sour. Knowing each of your palettes is unique you will probably prefer one over the other. That doesn’t mean the one you didn’t prefer sucked. And the breweries you don’t prefer but are growing don’t suck either. Respect Beer.”

Word. But end of conversation? Definitely not. The forum section of Beeradvocate.com, an organization has been tirelessly promoting the craft beer movement since 1996, went down hard on Saturday, under the weight of some 3.5 million posts. They’ll be back. In the meantime, relax, respect and enjoy one of Sixpoint, Kelso, Barrier, Schmaltz, Chelsea or Brooklyn Brewery’s creative, fresh, locally-brewed concoctions.

 

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One Response to State of the Union: Craft Brewing in the United States Re-Reaches a Century-Old Milestone, But Its Biggest Fans Can’t Quit Complaining

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