Sep 20, 2022 - News

North Carolina's largest craft breweries

Data: Brewers Association; Table: Thomas Oide/Axios

North Carolina's largest craft breweries largely rebounded in 2021 — a year after the pandemic crushed the industry.

  • But challenges still remain for the industry, which is having to deal with both inflation and supply chain challenges like a carbon dioxide shortage.

The state of beer: Asheville's Highland Brewing was the state's largest craft brewery, producing nearly 45,000 barrels of beer in 2021.

  • The largest brewers in the Triangle by volume were: Fuquay-Varina's Aviator Brewing and Raleigh’s Lonerider Brewing — though their growth was either down or flat from the previous year.

Between the lines: The annual data — published for its members in the New Brewer journal — is the most comprehensive breakdown of the state's craft beer industry, Axios' John Frank reports.

Yes, but: Not all craft brewers are represented in the rankings because some do not submit sales and production data to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, the industry's trade group.

  • Excluded are local breweries that don't meet the definition of independent — less than 25% of the brewery is owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

What they're saying: Les Stewart, co-owner of Raleigh-based Trophy Brewing, said business was still a struggle for small brewers in the state last year.

  • "It really depended on what your business model was," Stewart said of last year. "Those with taproom-only or brewpub-exclusive arrangements saw some challenges."
  • Stewart said that Trophy's taproom remained slow in 2021, but the company's restaurants, which serve Trophy beer, have recovered strongly.

With inflation rising and labor shortages, though, Sean Lilly Wilson, of Fullsteam Brewery in Durham, said many brewers are being careful about how they grow.

  • "Breweries are realizing that chasing barrel metrics isn't always the best indicator of overall success in a challenging market with COVID and rising costs," Wilson said.

But still, Trophy and Fullsteam are eyeing growth.

  • Trophy is expanding its Maywood Avenue location and increasing its self-distribution to restaurants and bottle shops.
  • Fullsteam opened a second location at Boxyard RTP in the past year, and Wilson said he continues to look for new opportunities across the Triangle.

Editor's note: This story has been corrected to state that Asheville's Highland Brewing produced nearly 45,000 barrels of beer in 2021, not nearly 55,000 barrels.

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