Discussing the Discussion Over the Brewers Association’s Recent Craft Beer Sales Numbers…

Posted on Posted in Boston Beer, Brewers Association, Craft Beer, Craft Beer Sales, Stone Brewing Company

As I trudge my way through the book (and a pile of legal work frankly), I occasionally lift my head to read what others are writing about beer-related topics. As a testament to my limited world view, the few topics I inevitably pop into tend on occasion to reference things I have written. So was the case with the recent press release from the Brewers Association touting the craft beer industry’s recent sales numbers, which was then discussed by Beernews and Tom over at Yours for Good Fermentables. Both discuss my recent BeerAdvocate column in which I question whether it’s such a good thing to have every craft beer available on your local store shelves and use it to parallel the Brewers Association’s announcement of the following numbers:

Dollar growth from craft brewers during the first half of 2009 increased 9%, down from 11% growth during the same period in 2008. Volume of craft brewed beer sold grew 5% for the first six months in 2009, compared to 6.5% growth in the first half of 2008. Barrels sold by craft brewers for the first half of the year is an estimated 4.2 million, compared to 4 million barrels sold in the first half of 2008.

The folks at Beernews see this announcement as sort of a bad omen for craft brewers. While acknowledging that craft beer continues to grow, especially compared to the losses suffered by many larger brewers. In truth, I haven’t really digested or even thought about the numbers with my present schedule and that probably won’t happen until closer to the Great American Beer Festival next month but at first glance I can’t say I think the numbers are anything to really worry about. 9-percent dollar growth is pretty impressive in a down economy, especially considering that consumers, by most retail accounts, took the first two or three months of the year off from buying everything, including beer. Boston Beer, which comprises as much as a quarter of the craft beer industry’s sales numbers, took an especially hard hit in the first quarter of the year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see these numbers edge up a point or two by the end of the year. On the other hand, Coors Light has apparently raised its sales 6-percent so far this year by volume, so who knows.

I do agree with Beernews that the Brewers Association’s simultaneous announcement regarding the number of craft brewers was a little bit odd or even sleight of hand.

The U.S. now boasts 1,525 breweries, the highest number in 100 years when consolidation and the run up to Prohibition reduced the number of breweries to 1,498 in 1910. “The U.S. has more breweries than any other nation and produces a greater diversity of beer styles than anywhere else, thanks to craft brewer innovation,” Gatza added.

I suppose it’s just reassuring the media about the success of craft beer, which is certainly understandable in a world where decreased sales can be seen as a sign of weakness, even in a crap economy.

I won’t spend any time rehashing what I’ve said in previous columns about the serious issues facing the craft beer industry, including its selected method of achieving these levels of growth and whether they are sustainable except to say the following. While in Bar Harbor, Maine, this past weekend, I had a great dinner at a restaurant in Southwest Harbor, the Fiddler’s Green, which had a fantastic and detail beer menu. While that was a pleasant an unexpected surprise, it paled in comparison to my shock at being able to buy, on-premise, several of Stone Brewing Company’s 22 ounce bottles, including its Old Guardian Barleywine and Smoked Porter, for ridiculously cheap prices ($7 and $6 respectively). By way of reference, these prices are equal to or cheaper than what these beers cost at a liquor store in Boston. Now I think that this particular restaurant may very well have been the furthest possible place you could enjoy Stone’s beers away from the brewery while still in the continental United States (approximately 3320 miles). And while it was nice to have the option, I can’t help but wondering about the wisdom of sending beers so far from home and whether anyone is making any money on these sales. (For the record, we opted instead for the 750 of Val Dieu Grand Cru for $12, which went great with the Pot du Creme)…

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