Feb 14, 2023 - Food and Drink

Surging craft brewery industry is regaining equilibrium

A sign reading "BEER" with Cleveland's Key Tower in the background

Market Garden Brewery's taproom in Ohio City, with Key Tower looking on. Photo: Sam Allard/Axios

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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