Census Bureau Counts Breweries

Data released by the U.S. Census Bureau this week echoed the same narrative that has been pervasive throughout the industry for a while now: more and more breweries are opening up across the country.

Specifically, according to its 2012 Economic Census Industry Series, the number of breweries in the United States more than doubled between 2007 and 2012 from 398 to 869. The study is conducted once every five years; the next study will be for 2017.

The Brewers Association, on the other hand, pegged the total number of operational breweries in the country during 2012 at 2,408. The reason for the discrepancy between the two surveys has to do with categorization: For its study, the Census only counted businesses whose own manufactured beer accounted for more than 50 percent of overall sales, according to Robert Bernstein, a Census public information officer.

By that measure, the Census would categorize a not insignificant number of brewpubs, restaurants, bars and other businesses where branded beer is not the primary source of sales in separate categories in the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS).

Other industries that could possibly have brewing as a secondary activity, as provided by Blynda Metcalf, chief of the Census’ Consumer Goods Institute Branch, include wholesale, retail, and other accommodation and food services as outlined by the NAICS.

“They’re using this NAICS code and they have to be put them in one bucket or the other,” added Bart Watson, staff economist with the Brewers Association.

Watson said the methodology that the Census employs also is likely to exclude businesses from the total count because it relies on brewers to self report their status as such to the bureau.

“They’re doing self reporting for a lot of it. A lot of the small brewers coming online just aren’t filling it out,” said Watson. “There’s a lot of dynamism. They’re taking a snapshot and sometimes snapshots miss some things.”

Regardless of what’s creating the discrepancy, Watson said he was just happy to see the numbers trending upward.

“I look forward to the number being bigger in the 2017 Census,” he said.

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