Light Beer Is Coming Back, and Other Findings from the Brewers Association Annual Report

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If you feel like every article you read about the beer business cites a different number of breweries in the country, you’re not wrong. With small and independent craft brewers cropping up in every state, the number of breweries is always on the rise, and it recently reached another milestone: According to the 2016 Craft Beer Year in Review report from the Brewers Association (BA), the official brewery count reached 5,005. That’s nearly 1,000 more breweries than last year’s historic high of 4,144.

Here are the key findings of the report, which was released this week.

IPAs are Still King—but Lighter Styles are Coming Back

In an ironic twist of fate that many beer drinkers report experiencing — ourselves included — the delicious varieties and volume of IPA styles are still dominating the U.S. beer market. As of this year, IPAs account for about 25 percent of craft volume. But hold the phone — even as New England craft brewers fight to have the haziest, yellowest juice bomb, other easy-drinking styles are in, with sales of sessionable beers like golden ales, pilsners, and pale lagers (the “never-go-out-of-styles,” as the Brewers Association appropriately calls them in their report) increasing by 33 percent in 2016, accounting for nearly 5 percent of craft beer sales.

Big Beer is Still Big...

A shudder could be felt throughout the craft beer community when, earlier this year, the Department of Justice approved Anheuser-Busch InBev (also referred to as AB InBev, or ABI) to acquire SABMiller, effectively combining the two largest brewers in the world. The multinational conglomerate is two and a half times the size of the U.S. beer market in its entirety. While this poses a threat to craft brewers as well as consumers’ freedom of choice in the beers they buy, the BA optimistically reports in their December findings that a majority of craft beer lovers said they are drinking more craft because it offers more variety, which offers a beacon of hope.

...But Craft Has Room to Grow

According to mid-year data, released in July, craft beer production increased 8 percent by volume during the first half of the year, which led Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson to believe that while the craft brewing industry has matured, most U.S. markets reflect room for growth, rather than being oversaturated. In other words, the bubble isn’t bursting any time soon.

Beer is Good for the Economy

We wouldn’t have craft breweries without homebrewing, and according the BA, homebrewing in the U.S. has created more than 11,000 jobs and generated more than $1 billion in spending and more than $700 million in revenues. The American Homebrewers Association (AHA), the homebrewing arm of the BA, also announced in October that homebrewing is on the rise, with Boise, Idaho; Minneapolis/Saint Paul, Minnesota; Nashville, Tennessee; Phoenix, Arizona; Rochester, New York; Tampa, Florida; and Windsor, California topping the list of up-and-coming homebrew hotspots.

The BA also reported that craft beer export volume, supported by the BA’s Export Development Program (EDP), increased by 16.3 percent in 2015, with more than 100 craft brewers exporting their beer internationally — a total of 446,151 barrels worth $116 million, to be exact.

Beer is Good for Budget Travel

Beer travel has also reached new horizons, with the Beer Tourism Index, created by Travelocity in partnership with the Brewers Association, debuting in October. According to the Beer Tourism Index, the number one large metro area for beer is Portland, Oregon.

Beer Has a Place at the Table

Beer and food pairing is also on the rise: The BA reported that among craft beer drinkers, 73 percent said that when making beer purchasing decisions, “complementing a meal” is either a “very important” or “somewhat important” selection criteria while dining out; and 63 percent said they select beer based on the food or meal they’re planning to eat.

Beer Got Political

Thanks to the BA’s efforts to push forward bipartisan legislation to restructure federal excise tax for brewers and improve outdated laws that regulate the U.S. brewing industry, more than half of the U.S. Congress now supports the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act. What the act seeks to accomplish is to effectively reduce excise taxes, compliance burdens, and regulations on the breweries, cideries, wineries, and distilleries, helpful in particular for the small and independent craft beverages makers who are most affected by them.

In other news, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History announced its American Brewing History Initiative, a three-year project to collect, document, and preserve the history of the beer industry in America. According to the BA, the job posting for a historian to study brewing history was one of the most viral beer stories of the year.

The BA also added that the December figures — provided by the Brewers Association, IRI Group, and Nielsen — are a compilation of data and do not represent all craft beer sales. A comprehensive annual analysis of craft brewer production will be released in March of 2017. View a recap of the 2016 Craft Beer Year in Review in this handy infographic.