Ask my long-suffering wife. By that token, ask any of my ex girlfriends. Ask my parents. Ask any of my friends over the last 30 years. Ask any of my ex friends if the reason they’re no longer my friends is because they think I always have to be right. But the takeaway here is: I was right.
Back when Derrick Peterman of Ramblings of a Beer Runner hosted the 67th monthly installment of The Session, a beer blogging exercise. In short, he wanted to know how many American breweries there’d be in five years. At the time (2012), the Brewers Assocation (BA) stated there were 2,126 in operation. To start off his round-up, Derrick said, “As for who wins the prize, forgive the sappy cliché but you’re all winners.” But he, unlike me, was wrong. Oh sure, David Blascombe of Good Morning… was also right in a slightly more general sense. He was more not-wrong than I was right (on the money). He put down “Over 5,000.” I predicted 5,001. Seriously, click on that.
In my blog, I reasoned that, “it’d be logical that since more Americans prefer beer to wine, there should be more breweries. Or at least the same amount. Fine, how about at least HALF as many!?”
This morning, the BA announced that on November 30, 2016, the United States reached a new peak in the brewery population: 5,005. They further pointed out that it is half the number of wineries.
Bart Watson, Ph.D. is the BA’s Chief Economist. Dude’s got mad numbers skills. And I pinged him this past summer, when I noticed that the official count had topped 4,500, if he thought my prognostication was correct in pegging the year-end tally at five grand. “We’re averaging closer to two a day (net) over the past 12 months rolling,” Watson said, regarding the rate at which breweries open. “Based on what I see – I think end of the year is about when I’d predict 5,000, though could be a bit longer if closings finally start to tick up.” For all the media speculation about the craft beer bubble bursting, and some dire reports painting a slow-down, I’m going on record as saying: nuh uh. Don’t buy it. Well, the “craft” segment as a whole may continue to grow at a snail’s pace, but grow it will. More specifically, the number of breweries will continue to climb even if that means that the largest producers—or perhaps just the mid-range ones—will see stagnant sales. To bolster this assessment, Watson added, “There were 6,080 active Federal licenses at the end of 2015, so it’s just a matter of when all those breweries in planning open their doors.”
Here in Portland, we have 65 commercially operating breweries. That’s a number that all but about five other cities would be screaming “Saturation Point.” And yet we just welcomed three new ones in a third-mile radius. And three more are on track to open this winter. There’s absolutely reason that every American city with our population or larger can’t sustain as many breweries. That’s 25 larger cities by population. Some 640,000 people call Portland home. Denver has about 690,000 and, congratulations Mile High City, you’ve passed Portland with your 73 breweries. San Diego (pop. 1,4M) claims 130, but that’s all of SD County. The 690,000 folks who live in Seattle proper have 59 breweries to call their own.
On the flip side, my most recent Beer Traveler column for All About Beer focuses on metropolises that are just turning into beer destinations, places like Fredericksburg, Virginia and Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Yeah Iowa! If you brew it, they will come!
Below are the rest of the predictions submitted back in 2012. Not that they are all below 5,000. Technically, Derrick asked for our predictions in exactly five years, so mid-2017, but I say we’ll have at least 5,400 next summer, unless people stop loving beer, or there’s an asteroid heading for the US, or Trump’s economy wreaks havoc on par with Prohibition + planetary annihilation.
Just for funsies, remember this number: 8,075. Between the openings and inevitable closures, that’s my guess… How many breweries do you think will be operating in America in 2022?
4,252 In their Session debut, The Brew Gentlemen
3,189 Alan McCormick of Growler Fills
3,125 is the number Jon Abernathy of the Brewsite predicts My good friend Jon… my poor, stupid friend Jon… predicted…
Around 3,000 opines Sean Inman of Beer Search Party
2,831 is the number Chris Staten of DRAFT Magazine
2,620 Stan Hieronymus of Appellation Beer Stan is obviously quite wiser than I. But…
2,589.5 is the prediction by What We’re Drinking, … his home town of Dayton, OH, he writes: “I do think that 3-4 local, small scale breweries can be sustained within a city the size of Dayton…”…It’s worth noting the population of metro Dayton, OH is about 840,000. (Editor’s Note: there are currently FIVE in Dayton)
2,500 is the number by Roger Mueller of A Fool and His Beers
1 A dire prediction that one megabrewer will control the world comes from Jon Jefferson of 10th Day Brewing.