The State of Our Beer Industry

WHat with yesterday being International Beer Day, I’d thought I’d a brief moment to reflect upon how far the American beer industry has come during my generation, and then reflect the state of it currently. Both of these graphs comes from Biodesic.

First, how far have we come in thirty years?

Pretty damn far apparently. The number of craft beers plus industrial beers have put us as a point that just exceeds where we were at in 1909. This itself demonstrates to me a substantial point. A lot can happen to an industry in only 100 years. Consider that the white market beer industry was made extinct by prohibition, rebooted after it was repealed, reduced to near irrelevancy due to over-regulation, and then reinvigorated by small business, the last century shows us that industries – beer, food or otherwise – should take nothing for granted.

And when I say reinvigorate, I mean that in the largest sense of the word. America now has a thriving beer culture, one that is easily comparable to those in Europe. Granted, our cultural traditions are not on par with those of Germany, Belgium, or Britain, in large part due to prohibition and the zealotry to have the government restrict brewing. But one could argue that this has worked in our favor. Nowadays, a porter is just as important to American Brewers as an IPA or a wheatbeer. Walk into any craft brewery and you’ll find several cross-cultural options available to you. Finding this approach is far more difficult in Europe where many brewers feel beholden to their own regional traditions.

Additionally, craft brewers are currently fostering a cultural revolution of sorts in bars and restaurants across the country. Bar owners and restaurant managers are now paying attention to the quality of the product that they are putting out for their patrons. Here in Seattle, when you walk into any restaurant you are just as likely to find Black Raven or Hale’s Ale on tap as you are a Budweiser or Miller. The culture of the craft brewer is helping to foster an informed marketplace. From my own perspective, such diversity in the marketplace is helping to create pride in regional production, educated palates, and an understanding that flavorful beers bring as much to the table as a good bottle of wine.

This isn’t to say that things are perfect. As the chart below shows, Bud and MillerCoors still own the great majority of the marketplace. And we still import far more lagers than any other type of beer out there.

Add to this the marketing campaign that treats consumers like idiots, and product releases from the Big Two that run the gamut from over-engineered, to the over-marketed, to the down right silly, and we find ourselves with those with a lions share of the marketplace working seemingly at odds with what the craft brewers are trying to accomplish. I’ll leave it up to you whether this is acceptable or not.

But we have come a long way in the past generation. For those of us who like beer, it’s been a heckuva ride. It is wonderful to watch an industry where passionate work to create something of such diversity and quality. We in America could use more of them. Much more.