Welcome to the Golden Age of Craft Beer

I posted a ranking of the top 50 breweries in the US yesterday, and @scooteronomy asked if I could come up with hard figures about sales and beer production.  I tried and failed, but in that attempt I came across the gem above.  It shows the number of breweries in the US over the past 100 years and it tells a very compelling story.

Bad Dog!

The first downward spike is Prohibition, which sent the number of breweries plummeting to around zero.  When Prohibition was repealed, the number popped back up to around 750, but then started to decline over the next four decades as conglomeration lead to the reign of the macrobrewers.  The low point is marked by Spuds MacKenzie in the 80’s.

But then something wonderful began to happen.  Young guys who had vacationed in Europe brought home a thirst for good beer.  Unable to find well-crafted beers in the US, they began to brew their own at home.  Soon some of these guys realized that other folks loved their beer, and decided to turn it into a business.  In late 70’s and early 80’s, guys like Ken Grossman at Sierra Nevada started opening up small independent breweries committed to making excellent beer. It was the dawning of a new era in American beer.

As you can see on the chart above, this trend continued at a solid pace and then really took off in the mid nineties, when breweries like Dogfish Head, Victory, Stone and a host of other important players brewed their first batches.  It was also when the Internet really came of age, which might have also created greater awareness and demand for good beer.

The chart reminds me of a classic story of systemic oppression overcome by popular rebellion (you know, like Star Wars), where the desire of the people to have what’s good and right eventually wins out over greed and indifference.  Or maybe I’m reading too much into it.

What I do know for sure is that we are living in the golden era of craft beer.  We’re enjoying a time when selection, variety and creativity may very well be at their pinnacle.

I think craft beer will continue to grow in popularity as beer drinkers of all sorts realize there’s something better than the big boys, but there may never be more breweries in America than there are right now.  And as the industry matures, you might see fewer brewers willing to swing for the fences and make truly wonderful and weird beers.

But that’s all in the future.  For now, raise a glass to the men and women who have risked their blood, sweat, tears and potential careers as the night shift manager at Hooters to make America the best place on the planet to be a beer nerd.  Cheers!

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Categories: Beer, Lifestyle


Craft beer nerd, frequent beer blogger and occasional home brewer.

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2 Comments on “Welcome to the Golden Age of Craft Beer”

  1. Scooter
    June 25, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    That is awesome information. The amount of choice we have as beer consumers right now is staggering. At my local (and well-stocked) liquor store, I can go in once a week and get a six packs, 4 pack and a large single and likely never repeat a purchase. That is truly impressive and a testament to the wealth of great beers currently being produced.

    • June 25, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

      There’s nothing like an awesome beer store. I like to be so overwhelmed with choices that I’m frozen into inaction, like a deer in the headlights.

      The beer aisle has even changed in a few of the crappy places around me as well, as the places that didn’t “get it” a couple of years ago are starting to carry the basics of the good stuff. It shows that the guard is beginning to change.

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