Annual Oregon Sales Figures Reveal Surprises

The Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) tracks the sales of beer sold by Oregon in Oregon--sort of--and they have released year-end numbers for 2017. This used to be a reliable account of the amount of beer local breweries were selling in Oregon, but it's gotten less so over time. For example, Widmer Brothers/Craft Brewing Alliance, which brews something over a half million barrels on North Russell Street, isn't on the list. Consider what follows impressionistic information, then, and don't take it to the bank. Nevertheless, it is interesting.

Let's start with some topline figures. Once I massage the numbers, the volume of beer sold by local breweries in 2018 grew by around 3%, though that growth is shared unequally. Oregon continues to become a less top-heavy ecosystem, and smaller and mid-sized breweries find growth easier than their bigger and older counterparts. Currently 16 brewers sell more than 10,000 barrels in Oregon, and of the 226 that the OLCC tracks, 73 (32%) make more than a thousand barrels. The top seven breweries make half the beer sold in Oregon, which is fairly consistent with past years. Yet in 2015, it only took 12 breweries to account for two-thirds of total production. In 2017, that number had grown to 17. And one final interesting tidbit. There are now as many Bend breweries on the top twenty list (6) as Portland breweries. Portland is seven times the size of Bend.

Here's a look at the top twenty best-selling breweries in Oregon, along with their Oregon-only barrelage for 2017 and 2018.

It's worth noting that some of the bigger gainers are getting a bump either by adding facilities or releasing beer in new packages, which allows them to reach more customers. There is a typical pattern of growth where a brewery may jump enormously in a year as the new packages reach the market, and then grow modestly after that. That is, in fact, the pattern we saw with the dramatic success of 10 Barrel and Hop Valley after they were purchased by ABI and MillerCoors. Their products were suddenly everywhere, their numbers sky-rocketed, but now they've penetrated those new markets they've reached relative equilibrium.

You see some ugly bold red figures on this chart. That is the percentage growth (or decline) in volume from 2017 to 2018. Here, let me make it a little more obvious:

In 2015, the top twenty breweries grew by over 30,000 barrels collectively. In 2017, they were almost flat, growing just 1,500 barrels (.3%). This is consistent with everything we've seen in national trends. It remains very hard for larger breweries to dominate markets. In 2013, Deschutes sold 19% of the beer in Oregon; last year it sold 11% (Deschutes is down 24% over the same span). Ninkasi has managed to increase its overall Oregon barrelage, but has decline relative to the whole. In 2013, it sold 9% of Oregon's beer; in 2017 it was down to 8%.

The final thing to consider is the health of individual breweries in Oregon. Deschutes' total barrelage decline (14,328) is by far the state's biggest, but is offset somewhat by its continued dominance of the Oregon market. But look at BridgePort. Three years ago it was the 7th largest Oregon brewery. A decade ago it was the third-largest. Five years ago, BridgePort sold 24,744 barrels of beer in Oregon; this year it sold 8,524. Another long-developing trend is Rogue's slide, in Oregon. For the first time in decades, it's not a top-ten Oregon brewery.

Conversely the top six breweries on the growth chart (Ecliptic, Crux, Buoy, Pfriem, Pelican and Breakside) added 22,668 barrels collectively, which is impressive. Boneyard is now as big as BridgePort was at its apex and is still all-draft. Looking further down the list, some of the big gainers included Sunriver (22nd largest brewery, +54%), Wild Ride (34th largest brewery, +42%), and Ordnance (46th largest brewery, +43%).