Top 50 Breweries List: Behind the Numbers

This week, the Brewers Association released their annual list of the top 50 breweries, as well as the top 50 craft breweries, based on brewer’s 2016 beer sales volume. While it’s always cool to see our local breweries on the list, what does it mean beyond the numbers? While making the list is most likely significant to all 50 breweries, for the purpose of our discussion, we will take a look at the top 10 craft breweries on their list.

Top 10 Craft Brewing Companies

Rank Brewing Company City State
1 D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc Pottsville PA
2 Boston Beer Co Boston MA
3 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co Chico CA
4 New Belgium Brewing Co Fort Collins CO
5 Gambrinus San Antonio TX
6 Duvel Moortgat Paso Robles/Kansas City/Cooperstown CA/MO/NY
7 Bell’s Brewery, Inc Comstock MI
8 Deschutes Brewery Bend OR
9 Stone Brewing Co Escondido CA
10 Oskar Blues Brewing Holding Co Longmont CO

 

First of all, seeing Stone Brewing at #9 warms our San Diego hearts. The history of Stone, as well as their rise to the top of the craft beer market, has had a hugely positive impact on what the San Diego craft beer community is today. They rose one spot from last year’s list, beating out Oskar Blues as well as last year’s #9, Minhas Craft Brewery which fell to #14.

Yuengling Tops the List

Yuengling is a surprise entry on this list of craft breweries because it’s relatively unknown outside of its east coast hub of PA, DE, NJ, and NY, though they do distribute up and down the East Coast in 5 other states. While, this Pennsylvania brewery has been family-owned since 1829, making it the oldest brewery in the United States, it only made the leap to “craft” status when the Brewers Association changed the definition in 2014 to include breweries that use “adjunct grains” in their beers. Adjunct grains are unmalted grains like as corn, rice, rye, oats, wheat and even barley that are used in support of the malted grains in a brew.  Before this, the BA stuck to the German Reinheitsgebot, or purity law, stipulating that only barley malt, water, hops and yeast can be used to brew beers. This term most often refers to the use of corn and rice used in some lagers for cost cutting purposes.

In the case of the BA’s list, in order for a brewery to be considered “craft,” their flagship beers had to contain only barley malt. For Yuengling, this booted them from the list because they use corn in their flagship lager. But rules change, and the loosening of this rule allowed Yuengling to catapult to the top of the craft beer list in 2014.

Craft vs. Macro in Sales by Volume

Top 10 Overall Brewing Companies

Rank Brewing Company City State
1 Anheuser-Busch, Inc (a) Saint Louis MO
2 MillerCoors (b) Chicago IL
3 Pabst Brewing Co (c) Los Angeles CA
4 D. G. Yuengling & Son, Inc Pottsville PA
5 North American Breweries (d) Rochester NY
6 Boston Beer Co (e) Boston MA
7 Sierra Nevada Brewing Co Chico CA
8 New Belgium Brewing Co Fort Collins CO
9 Lagunitas Brewing Co (f) Petaluma CA
10 Craft Brew Alliance (g) Portland OR

 

This is the list of top breweries in the U.S., including macro beer. While it is notable that 4 out of the top 10 are craft breweries, they aren’t playing with the big dogs just yet. That’s because AB and MillerCoors still produce most of the country’s beer. According to a 2015 report, AB produces 45% of the beer consumed in the U.S. and MillerCoors produces 26%. While this number has moved around a bit with the merging of AB and SABMiller, SABMiller was forced to divest in all of their U.S. holdings (beers) to pass the U.S. anti-trust regulator’s snuff, so they haven’t gained much more of the U.S. share over MillerCoors.

To give you an idea of just how far off craft beer is from macro in terms of sales, in 2015, the Brewer’s Association showed Yuengling selling 2.9 million bbls, Sierra Nevada selling 1.1 million bbls, and Stone selling 287,075 bbls. AB, meanwhile, sold 38 million bbls of Bud Light alone in that same time period. Zooming out a bit, according to this graphic, AB InBev sold 116,890 million hectoliters in North America in 2016. Converted to barrels, that comes out to about 99,609,906 million barrels. As you can see, there is an insanely big difference between the top two breweries on this list when compared to all of the other ones that made the list, even if you took out all the sales from Canada.

Dropped From the List

Another notable thing on the 2016 list, is that the craft breweries who were bought out by big beer were kicked off the list of top 50 craft breweries. Last year, they were still included on the list but had an asterisk next to their name to indicate that they were bought by larger, non-craft, beverage companies. 

This year, they were not on the list at all, which possibly shows a shifting perspective at the Brewers Association. Within the last year, there has been a lot of information that has come out about big beer moving into the craft beer world by not only buying up craft breweries but also distributors. When added to the pay-to-play practices their sales and distributors are known to employ, this has led to a lot of industry insiders and regular beer drinkers to consider who their beer dollars are supporting and many are making the choice to support independent breweries over breweries backed by big beer. By removing them from the list the Brewers Association seems to be making a definitive statement that supports independent brewers.

In May, the Brewers Association will release their full report on the beer industry which will give us more insight into the numbers that make up this list. Until then, this list definitely can spark some interesting conversations, from the classification of craft beer to the shifting perceptions of big beer vs. craft to the dominance of CA when it comes to regional craft breweries.

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