Notes on America's Largest Breweries

Today the Brewers Association put out its annual list of largest breweries, as always in two versions: one including all US breweries, and one with BA-recognized "craft" breweries. For the last few years, there has been an element of kabuki to this exercise, and last year I pointed out the 21-footnote, 300-word explanation required to clarify the myriad ownership entanglements that most of the largest craft breweries now have. (Footnotes were deemphasized in the 2018 listing.) For a second year, the top breweries include listings like this:

5. Duvel Moortgat (Paso Robles/Kansas City/Cooperstown)
6. Gambrinus (San Antonio/Berkeley/Portland)
9. CANarchy (Longmont/Tampa/Salt Lake City/Comstock Park)
14. Artisanal Brewing Ventures (Downingtown/Lakewood)

The first on that list is the most bizarre; Duvel Moortgat is a Belgian company owning nine breweries in three countries. Gambrinus is nearly as weird, with its ownership of an old regional brewery, import and distribution wings, and partnership with an Austrian brewery (Trumer). For years, the top breweries list has been one of the Brewers Association's most potent tools in controlling the definition of "craft," but that has frayed to the point of incomprehension. I quit talking about "largest craft breweries" in favor of "largest breweries" some time ago, but the media routinely consulted the list when determining whether at brewery was "craft" or not. My guess is the potency of this tool is all but lost with this latest list. Its sole value is that it extends the list of breweries not included on the total breweries list.

Biggest Changes
The largest-breweries list is still a fascinating read for those who track growth, shrinkage, and relative power. The BA made a couple of changes this year, converting Ballast Point and Lagunitas to Constellation and Heineken on the current list. Diageo (that is to say Guinness--and this blog's sponsor), which didn't appear on the 2016 list, debuts at number eight on the current list, just ahead of Boston Beer. That rejiggering of the largest breweries means the BA-recognized craft breweries drop in the rankings. Boston Beer, sixth in 2016's list, drops to nine this year. But those moves are the results of simple housekeeping.

Click to enlarge.

More interesting are the movements of other breweries up and down. At the top of the list, where things are less volatile, Stone moved up a place, Dogfish Head moved up two places, and Deschutes fell two. Further down the list, the biggest gainers were: Troëgs (+8), 21st Amendment and Revolution (+6), Odell (+5), and Flying Dog (+4). The biggest fallers were Long Trail and Green Flash (-6) and Ninkasi (-5). Rhinegeist, a Cincinnati brewery, debuted at 43 on the full breweries list, and debuted on the craft list at 33. I am 100% ignorant about Rhinegeist and 100% curious how it managed to rush the gates like this.

I don't have any particular analysis to offer, except to note that the west coast breweries had a rough year. I suspect this has to do with their performance in further-flung states where local breweries are increasingly strong. (That first-mover advantage the west coast enjoyed has elapsed.) Your comments and points of analysis are most welcome.

Jeff Alworth9 Comments