Brewery Openings on the Rise in Major U.S. Population Centers, BA Reports

U.S. cities with populations in excess of 5 million have seen the most percentage growth of brewery openings in the past five years, according to Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson.

Watson, who took to the BA blog with data compiled from the 2010 U.S. Census Bureau and brewery zip code locations, found a 183 percent increase in the number of breweries per 100,000 people in cities of more than 5 million people.

In an email to Brewbound, Watson explained that the growth in the number of breweries in the U.S.’s largest cities is partially due to those locations playing “catch-up” with the rest of the country.

“Those metro area didn’t have that many [breweries] relative to other areas a few years ago,” he wrote. “There also aren’t that many of those cities, so some of this may be specific city or state legislative or regulatory changes.”

Despite the increase in the number of breweries in the largest cities, Watson found that the number of breweries per capita is inversely related to urban population. Therefore, small towns still boast more breweries per capita than big cities.

“Currently there are only 100 more breweries in the most populated urban areas (5M+) as there are in rural areas/the smallest towns,” he wrote.

In fact, the most breweries per capita exist in “urban clusters” of between 2,500 and 10,000 people, he noted.

“Those areas have 7.6 percent of the breweries in the country, despite only representing 3.5 percent of the U.S. population,” he wrote.

Watson added that some of the possible reasons why more breweries per capita exist in those urban clusters are lower costs, less competition, friendlier zoning and regulatory climates, and, in some cases, tourism. He added that the largest urban areas are typically more expensive to operate in and have existing competition from established food and beverage companies.

Watson concluded that while the number of rural breweries in towns of fewer than 2,500 people has increased, their growth is “in line” with the overall growth of U.S. breweries. And though those breweries are located in areas with fewer breweries per capita, they also are in areas with less density to pull from.

“It will also be interesting to watch closing patterns,” he wrote. “As one Twitter user suggested, it’s possible that the smallest towns will be brewery ‘canaries in the coalmine’ due to their smaller population bases.”

Nevertheless, Watson’s data — including an interactive map — revealed that eight metro areas are now home to more than 100 breweries.

Leading the way is Chicago, with 167 breweries.

The Chicago Tribune, citing Watson’s analysis of metro areas as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, reported that the Chicago brewery count includes Northwest Indiana to Aurora and Joliet to the Wisconsin border.

“It’s a broad area with a large, progressive population, plenty of affordable real estate and a fair bit of disposable income,” the Tribune reported. “So in a sense, Chicago’s rise should be no surprise.”

Trailing Chicago are long-time beer meccas and other major population centers, including Denver (158), Seattle (153), San Diego (150), Los Angeles (146), New York (141), Portland, Oregon (139), and Philadelphia (113).

The last time Watson charted the data — in 2013 — Seattle’s 87 breweries were the most in the nation. Chicago ranked fifth that year with 62 breweries, trailing Portland, Oregon (77), San Diego (76) and Denver (63).

Although Chicago currently has the most breweries in the nation, the Windy City still trails Portland, Oregon, in breweries per capita (167 breweries for 8.2 million people versus 139 breweries for 1.8 million people), the Tribune reported.

Rankings are fleeting, however, as more breweries open their doors and shutter. According to the BA, 7,000 breweries were in operation as of the end of October, with potentially as many as 1,000 openings in 2018. Meanwhile, Watson told Brewbound earlier this year that he anticipates as many as 300 brewery closures by the end of 2018, as the gap between openings and closings begins to converge.

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