Surging craft brewery industry is regaining equilibrium
The explosive growth of the craft brewing industry during the first two decades of the 21st century is trending toward equilibrium.
Driving the news: The years before the pandemic were abnormal, Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson recently told the annual gathering of the Ohio Craft Brewers Association.
- "The bubble isn't bursting," Watson said. "What was weird was the past 10 years, when everyone was opening and no one was closing. What we're going to see is a normal, mature industry, where some people open and some close."
State of play: Roughly 9,400 breweries operate in the United States. Watson predicted slow growth until early 2024, when the total would level off at about 10,000.
Zoom in: Ohio is home to 420 breweries, with 44 that opened in 2022 and 18 that closed, according to the Ohio Craft Brewers Association.
- No new breweries arrived in Cleveland last year, and only Thirsty Dog in the Flats closed.
- But the region welcomed a North High outpost in Beachwood, Akronym Public House in Medina, Mad Brewing in Medina, plus new ventures in Canton and Youngstown.
- Plus: 75 brewery projects are in the works statewide.
What's next: Watson's data suggested that craft beer distribution was unlikely to grow in 2023, especially with ready-to-drink cocktails and healthier light lagers from major commercial breweries dominating grocery store shelves.
Yes, but: Breweries' core customers promptly returned to taprooms and brewpubs after pandemic lockdowns receded.
- Of the 10 largest breweries in the state, eight increased production in 2021 compared with 2020, and most returned to or exceeded their pre-pandemic sales volumes, too, per data from the Brewers Association.
- Great Lakes Brewing Co. led the way with a 21% increase in production.
The bottom line: Watson encouraged craft brewers not to stress about the economy, which is complicated and largely beyond their control.
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