It’s no secret that the pandemic era has taken its toll on breweries. The 2020 lockdown resulted in a historic drop in beer sales as restaurants, bars and taverns closed and breweries had to find new ways to sell their beer.
So where are we now and where are we going next? Hold on to your hats: good news ahead.
Each year, the Brewers Association, a trade organization representing small independent breweries in the United States, lists the top 50 craft brewers and a separate list of the top 50 breweries, which includes all American breweries. Looking at the list year after year gives you a good idea of who is doing well, who is up and who is down. But the newest report, which covers 2021, is especially important because it shows which breweries are successfully recovering from the pandemic.
Overall, craft beer sales grew by 8 percent from 2020 to 2021. This is a cause for rejoicing, although a sharp drop in 2020 of 10 percent means we are not yet at pre-pandemic levels. But now craft beer accounts for just over 13% of the total beer market, which is impressive. I’ve been watching the beer world long enough to remember the times when 10 percent seemed impossible and business analysts kept insisting that craft beer was just a fad. Obviously they were wrong – and we have 9,000 American breweries to prove it.
California continues to dominate US brewing, with 10 craft breweries in the top 50 and four in the top 10.
California’s largest craft brewery, Sierra Nevada Brewing, came in third. Not far behind are Firestone Walker and Trumer, although both are part of larger companies with multiple breweries; Firestone Walker is owned by Duvel Moortgat USA (#4) and Trumer is owned by Gambrinus (#5).
Gordon Biersch of the San Francisco Bay Area, a longtime lager maker, was the star of the year, climbing from 27th to 15th place and convincingly proving that people are indeed drinking more pilsners and other lagers. Another Bay Area brewery on the list is 21st Amendment Brewery, which continues to shine at No. 42. Other Northern California breweries making the list include Lost Coast (No. 37) and North Coast (No. 50). Anchor Brewing, as part of several Sapporo breweries, ranked 47th on the “all breweries” list.
And in the non-Californian but extremely exciting category, Connecticut brewery Athletic Brewing, which brews only non-alcoholic beer, debuted at number 27.
There is more good news at the individual brewery level. Although the number of brewery openings has slowed down from the peak in 2018, significantly more new breweries opened in 2021 (646) than closed (178). You might think that opening a brewery during a pandemic might not be the best idea. But as I discovered during my monthly brewery day trip series, many breweries in the planning stages decided they had nothing to lose by moving forward, and the results were promising.
The reopening of breweries should continue until 2022 and I’ll be keeping an eye on a few. Brewing with Brothas founders Denzel Jackson and Bukky Tinsley hope to open their first brewery in East Palo Alto, their hometown. In the meantime, they’re brewing beer at other breweries, including a Silicon Valley collaborative beer for San Francisco Beer Week 2022 to support their project. In the meantime, you can follow their journey on Instagram. @brewing.with.brothas.
In San Francisco Olfactory brewing is moving into the old Triple Voodoo dig and hopes to start work later this year. And soon new breweries could appear in Livermore and Foster City.
Contact Jay R. Brooks at BrooksOnBeer@gmail.com.