Many Top 50 Craft Breweries Struggling to Grow, Brewers Association Data Suggests

More than half of the top 50 Brewers Association-defined craft brewing companies didn’t grow in 2018, according to data published in the May/June edition of the not-for-profit trade group’s New Brewer magazine.

It’s the third consecutive year that at least half of the top 50 regional craft brewing companies — those producing between 15,000 and six million barrels of beer a year — didn’t grow. In 2018, 28 of the top 50 small and independent breweries either declined or remained flat. In fact, just seven companies in the top 20 posted mid-to-low single-digit growth.

Beer volumes at three of the top five craft breweries — D.G. Yuengling and Son (-2 percent), Boston Beer Company (-7 percent) and New Belgium Brewing (-11 percent) — declined.

Bucking the trend, however, was Sierra Nevada Brewing Company. After consecutive years of 7 percent declines, the California- and North Carolina-based craft brewery returned to growth in 2018, increasing production 2 percent, to nearly 1.1 million barrels.

Meanwhile, Firestone Walker’s 12 percent uptick in production accounted for all 5 percent of Duvel Moortgat USA’s growth, as volumes dipped at both Boulevard Brewing (-10 percent) and Brewery Ommegang (-8 percent).

Other top-20 craft brewing companies that grew volumes in 2018 included Bell’s Brewery (+3 percent), Canarchy (+3 percent), Stone Brewing (+3 percent), SweetWater (+2 percent) and New Glarus (+2 percent).

Notable top-20 craft breweries that declined last year included Shiner-maker Gambrinus (-3 percent), Deschutes Brewery (-8 percent), Artisanal Brewing Ventures (-3 percent), Brooklyn Brewery (-4 percent), Minhas (-9 percent), Matt Brewing (-3 percent), Alaskan Brewing (-5 percent) and Great Lakes Brewing (-3 percent).

Only two top 20 companies recorded flat volumes in 2018: Dogfish Head Craft Brewery and Harpoon Brewery.

Four of the top 50 craft breweries — Rhinegeist Brewery, Three Floyds, Georgetown Brewing and Two Roads Brewing — posted strong double-digit volume growth. Fast-rising Cincinnati craft brewery Rhinegeist grew 16 percent and crossed the 100,000-barrel threshold, while Three Floyds (+25 percent) and Georgetown (+37 percent) each produced more than 80,000 barrels.

In addition to New Belgium, three other companies in the top 50 — Flying Dog (-11 percent), Full Sail (-13 percent) and Bear Republic (-15 percent) — reported double-digit volume declines.

Outside of the top 50, Massachusetts’ Tree House Brewery was among the fastest-growing larger craft beer companies, increasing volume 130 percent, to 44,250 barrels, up from 19,250 barrels in 2017. Also of note, Scottish-born craft beer maker BrewDog, which has a U.S. division based in Columbus, Ohio, increased production 456 percent, to 36,353 barrels, after producing just 6,539 barrels in 2017.

Several other companies inside the top-100 craft breweries recorded strong double-digit growth, including Great Divide (+54 percent), Modern Times (+41 percent), Montauk Brewing (+22 percent), Creature Comforts (+46 percent), Catawba Brewing Co. (+94 percent), Santa Fe Brewing (+40 percent), Pelican Brewing (+39 percent), Night Shift Brewing (+62 percent) and Belching Beaver (+68 percent).

UPDATE: According to BA chief economist Bart Watson, there was a “double-counting error” on the trade group’s part in regards to Great Divide’s production numbers. The company actually declined 20 percent, to 31,575, in 2018.

Troubled San Diego-based Green Flash Brewing’s effort to retrench following a year of financial turmoil that culminated with a foreclosure sale, fell short, however. The company, which had previously been ranked as one of the largest U.S. craft beer producers, fell outside the top 50 in 2019. Its volume fell 37 percent, to 45,345 barrels, a decline of nearly 27,000 barrels in a year.

The BA also shared data for companies that fall outside of its craft brewer definition. Those companies combined to produce more than 8 million barrels of beer.

Production of Anheuser-Busch InBev’s 11 craft brands combined grew 1 percent, as seven of the world’s largest beer manufacturer’s craft brands are now above the 100,000-barrel threshold, the BA reported.

A-B’s two largest craft brands — Goose Island (550,000 barrels) and Shock Top (430,000 barrels) — declined 7 percent and 23 percent, respectively. Seattle-based Elysian Brewing Company continued to expand, growing 38 percent, to 220,000 barrels. Three other A-B craft brands crossed the 100,000-barrel mark last year, including 10 Barrel Brewing (100,000 barrels), Four Peaks Brewing (100,000 barrels) and Golden Road (160,000 barrels). Other brands have either already hit that milestone (Karbach Brewing at 125,000 barrels) or are closing in on it (Breckenridge Brewery at 95,000 barrels and Blue Point at 90,000 barrels).

Meanwhile, MillerCoors’ top craft brands — Blue Moon and Leinenkugels — also struggled in 2018, declining 4 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Still, the company’s four acquired craft brands — Saint Archer (+21 percent), Hop Valley (+12 percent), Revolver (+15 percent) and Terrapin (+12 percent) — each posted double-digit growth. Nevertheless, only one of those companies, Georgia-based Terrapin, was close to being a 100,000-barrel brand, brewing 95,000 barrels last year.

Constellation Brands’ $1 billion purchase of Ballast Point Brewing continued to produce diminishing returns, as the San Diego-based craft brewery recorded a double-digit decline for the consecutive year (-15 percent). Constellation’s other acquired brands, Florida’s Funky Buddha Brewery and Texas’ Four Corners Brewing, eked out single-digit growth of 1 and 4 percent, respectively.

Despite the fast growth of its popular Hawaiian-themed Kona brand, Craft Brew Alliance declined 1 percent in 2018, to 756,959 barrels.

Also of note: San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing, which was acquired by Japanese brewing company Sapporo Holdings for $85 million in 2017, posted double-digit declines for the second consecutive year, dipping 16 percent, to 91,938 barrels. Anchor’s volume has steadily declined from a peak of 159,000 barrels in 2014.

That wasn’t the case for other corporately held craft breweries, however. Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewing Company grew 6 percent and crossed the 1-million barrel mark for the first time in 2018. And driven by 21 percent growth of Founders Brewing Company products, Mahou San Miguel’s craft brands grew a combined 17 percent. Founders’ growth to 563,179 barrels in 2018 was only partially offset by a 14 percent decline at Mahou’s other U.S. craft beer company, Avery Brewing Co.

The total craft category, as defined by the BA, grew 4 percent, to 25.9 million barrels, in 2018.

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