Today, the American Brewers Association has released its annual list of the top fifty craft brewers in the U.S. which is based on sales volume. While there’s no major surprises in the list, it makes for interesting reading as a consumer of craft beer in Ireland. And for Irish craft brewers, a reminder that as our market grows, there are importers here who are ‘selling us’ as a market destination for growth, which presents a fight for shelf space to brands that have long-established reputations, & can gain traction here from that alone.
24% (12) of the fifty top craft beer companies in the U.S.A. by sales volume sell their beers here in our market. And that’s not including beers from Founders, Lagunitas, Firestone Walker, all of which fall outside the definition of craft brewers in the U.S.because of their financial independence ownership threshold being cross (and these are sold as craft in Ireland due to the absence of a generally held market definition here, while sitting alongside crafty beers on shelves from Molson Coors, Diageo, Heineken, ABInBev etc.).
On the following graphic from the BA report, I’ve marked the breweries whose beers sell in our market for a visual:
In the U.S.A., according to the Brewers Association there are over 5,000 breweries operating. That’s roughly 104 breweries per state. In Ireland, last year Bord Bia put the number at 66 in their report, ‘Craft Beer and Microbreweries in Ireland, 2016‘.
Let’s put this in some kind of perspective just how aggressive micro brewery growth in the U.S. market has been in the last five years:
- 2012: 2,347 craft/micro breweries
- 2013: 2,687 craft/micro breweries
- 2014: 3,418 craft/micro breweries
- 2015: 4,225 craft/micro breweries
- 2016: 4,905 craft/micro breweries
When you look at that level of growth, and the realisation that 24% of the top 50 craft/micro breweries sell their beers here, there is a lot of potential for beer importers to make alot of money at a time when craft beer sales in Ireland are on the rise, along with availability as well as visibility thanks to the macros with their fake craft offerings.
As an Irish brewery whose getting started, I feel there’s two pieces of advice from Shane Long of Franciscan Well you should absolutely pay an INCREDIBLE amount of heed to (the first of three he tells everyone; “don’t do it.“):
- Stay away from the idea of going with the ‘beer trinity’; Pale Ale, Red Ale, Stout. BE different, be interesting & be good.
- If you’ve not thought about distribution, get on that early. Make sure you have a distributor lined up as soon as possible to even have a fighting chance.
His first piece of advice given the American craft beer imports hitting our shores from that top fifty list, as well as the volume of quality, flavour punching UK beers such as Beavertown, BrewDog, CloudWater etc (don’t believe for a second BREXIT is going to stop this – it’s not) means you seriously have to up your game & make sure you stand out.
Alot of seasoned Irish craft breweries have completely upped their games in this area from their initial positions a few years ago when the market was more underdeveloped, & now they’re capable of standing toe to toe with this imports on quality & flavours. Examples of this are Yellow Belly,Kinnegar, Blacks of Kinsale, Rascals Brewing, Trouble Brewing, Rye River & many more.
The Yankees are invading & it won’t be letting up any time soon. If anything, the pressure is only going to be ratcheted up in the fight for beer money from craft beer fan’s pockets.