Paul Gatza: U.S. Brewery Count Grows to 2,126 With 1,252 More in Planning

At least one new craft brewery opens each day in the U.S., according to Brewers Association Director, Paul Gatza’s, latest estimates.

“Just out of speculation, this year our conversion rate will probably be near 40 percent,” he said. “That means roughly 40 percent of the 915 breweries-in-planning in our database from December 2011 will come online in 2012, or about 350.”

His latest numbers peg the total U.S brewery count at 2,126, up from the 1,949 reported at the end of last year. That means through the first six month of 2012, 177 new breweries have entered the space, many of which are operating on smaller brewing systems Gatza said.

“I would say that a fair estimate is that slightly less than half are opening on 3-barrel (or less) brewing systems,” Gatza said. “Then there is another group on slightly larger 7-barrel and 10-barrel systems.”

So how much “new” capacity is coming online? Gatza estimates that if each new brewery produces between 200-400 barrels annually, roughly 100,000 “new” barrels will come online in 2012.That’s a far cry from the 10 million new barrels Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy suggests is currently being built out. But Hindy’s number reflects major expansions from large regional players, many of which are planning to build out 5-10 times the amount of collective barrels that newly launched breweries will produce this year.

Still, the most astonishing number Gatza relayed to is the amount of “breweries-in-planning”, which he said is 1,252 as of June 30th.

But unlike the craft beer boom of the 1990’s, Gatza said the Brewers Association is witnessing more packaging breweries launching rather than brewpubs.

“Many of them are starting small and relying on a tasting room to build awareness and sales in the communities in which they exist,” he said.

Despite the torrid brewery opening rate, Gatza isn’t too concerned about a “bubble burst.”

“Even if some of these folks stop making beer, it won’t seem like the bubble is bursting,” said Gatza. “A lot of these new startups are out of the way in office parks, not the ‘main street’ brewpubs we saw closing up shop in the late 90’s. That is what made people question if craft was viable.”

And Gatza has open arms for anyone wondering if it’s too late to enter the space.

“I’d say that there are still plenty of opportunities for shelf space, for startup brewers and for retailers that want to get into the craft business,” he said.