Craft brewers are typically small artisans who focus on innovating to put new twists on traditional beer styles, and their creations are more likely to be pulled from taps in local brewpubs than sold in six packs at retail stores.
That model put many at a disadvantage after the pandemic abruptly turned off the taps at brewpubs, bars and taprooms across the country in 2020, and drove up sales of packaged beer for home consumption.
Craft brewers may have been harder hit than big traditional brewers, but draft beer makers of all sizes felt the pinch of the pandemic, which hit pause on ballparks and concert venues in addition to brewpubs and eateries. Some of the unsellable beer was repurposed into hand sanitizer production, but the Beer Institute, a lobbying group for the industry, estimates that beer worth between $800 million and $900 million was destroyed.
But the pause proved brief – craft beer sales by volume were up 8% in 2021, even as overall beer sales by volume grew just 1%, and craft sales by dollar value grew 21%, according to data from the Boulder, Colo.-based Brewers Association, which puts craft brewers’ share of the total US beer market at 13.1%.
Much of last year’s growth came in the second half as consumers returned to on-premises dining and drinking, and early data from the first half of 2022 indicates that on-premises sales could be a bright spot as packaged beer sales continue to flatten.
Brewpubs bounce back
Most US consumers live within 10 miles of a craft brewer and there are 3,307 brewpubs operating around the country, 202 of which opened in 2021.
Nearly 200 brewpubs closed in the first year of the pandemic and another 71 were shuttered in 2021, but many were able to stay afloat with the help of the Restaurant Revitalization Fund until their patrons returned, Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, said in an association publication.
In addition to being community gathering spaces, brewpubs have the advantage of being able to serve fresh beer that’s brewed on-site. That could be a further advantage as the economy continues to grapple with supply chain challenges — while brewers face rising ingredient costs and concerns over supplies of wheat and other ingredients, the brewpub business model eliminates the need to transport the finished product.
Beer celebrations end their pandemic pause
Not only were bars, restaurants and brewpubs back in business, but festivals celebrating beer were making their returns in the US and internationally.
In Munich, Oktoberfest returned last month after a three-year absence, drawing crowds ready to resume the celebration of beer that began in 1810. About 6 million beer fans were expected to attend the 17-day event, which ran from mid-September through Oct. 3, and they were expected to drink about 8 million liters of beer, according to a Bloomberg report.
Closer to home, the Great American Beer Festival returned to Denver last month for the first time in three years, drawing about 40,000 attendees to the event itself and spurring local restaurants, bars and breweries to create smaller events.
An international panel of 235 beer experts judged entries from nearly 10,000 breweries over a nine-day period and awarded 300 gold, silver and bronze medals in 98 categories, according to the Brewers Association which organizes the event.
The American Style India Pale Ale category received the most entries at the festival, and IPAs remain popular as craft brewers continue to innovate and create new variants.
Other emerging trends identified by the association include the rise in non-alcoholic beers which have grown in popularity as brewers have been learning to create low- and no-alcohol beers that more closely resemble traditional beers in flavor and aroma, Paul Gatza and Bart Watson wrote in a Brewers Association publication.
Going to the dogs
Brewers largely focus on pleasing human beer fans, but at least one has branched out to develop alcohol-free brews for our canine companies. Busch Dog Brew debuted in 2020 as a pork-flavored novelty beverage that proved so popular it sold out in a single day, Food & Wine reported.
This year’s version, Busch Light Turkey Brew, is made with turkey, sweet potatoes and herbs. It will be sold online in packaging that features images of Kira, a rescue dog who won a contest earlier this year that invited fans to submit photos of their pups.
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