Craft beer makers brewed up bigger business in 2018

Many Americans will toast the arrival of 2019 with champagne or sparkling wine, but before midnight the glasses of partiers and restaurant patrons are more likely to be filled with hops- and barley-based brews.

Craft beer sales were on track to rise 5% this year, hitting a new record, and the number of craft breweries was set to grow 20% to more than 7,000, according to the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association.

Craft brewers are defined as small and independent, producing less than 6 million barrels annually, and the fact that they're locally produced is often a selling point. 

This year, 20-year-old Ithaca Beer Co. introduced Brew York, a pale ale made with locally grown ingredients that will be available year-round throughout New York state.

On their own, craft beer brewers are mostly small businesses, often serving local or regional markets. But together, they continue to make a growing mark on the overall beer scene. Globally, craft beer sales are on track to book 12% annual growth through 2022, according to Technavio.

In the US, more than 4,000 US craft brewers have signed on to use the Independent Craft Brewer certification seal since it was launched by the Brewers Association last year. This year, the seal and the association’s member breweries across the country gained a national presence in a multi-channel advertising and marketing campaign using the tagline “That’s Independence You’re Tasting.”

A growing number of craft beers are served in brewpubs, restaurants that serve at least one-quarter of the brews they make on-site. There were 2,252 brewpubs in the US by the end of 2017, up from 1,308 five years ago.

Craft brews are also becoming a draw at some national chains.

In 2017, Taco Bell created its Cantina concept, with plans to open about 300 of the locations that serve beer along the chain’s Mexican-inspired menu. Last December, it teamed with Four Sons Brewing to create a brew dubbed Beach Bell that would only be served at the Taco Bell Cantina in Newport Beach, Calif.

This year, the chain opened its first three Cantinas in Manhattan, with a specially created pilsner dubbed Big City Bell from local brewer Blue Point Brewing.

 Starbucks has also experimented with craft beer. Last year, the coffee chain discontinued its “Evenings” program that featured beer and wine at 400 locations, but it hasn’t given up on beer sales completely. The chain’s new high-end Reserve Roasteries concept includes a full bar boasting local beers.

Craft beer by the numbers:

  • 5% -- The increase in craft beer sales in 2018
  • 7,000 – The number of US craft brewers
  • 85% -- The percentage of drinking-age adults who live within 10 miles of a US craft brewer
  • $76 billion – The economic impact of the US craft beer industry
  • 500,000 – The number of jobs generated by the US craft beer industry

Source: The Brewers Association

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