A brewery a day: Beer-maker growth rate fastest since Prohibition

A variety of beers at the Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens in Escondido.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Jay Gatsby would have been astounded by today’s beer market, especially the spectacular growth in craft brews.

Beer from small and independent makers is performing far better than more mainstream labels in the U.S. Through the first half of 2012, dollar sales for craft brews are up 14% compared with the same period a year prior; volume sales have risen 12%, according to the Brewers Assn. trade group.

That equates to 6 million barrels, which puts craft breweries on track to bust past the 11.5-million barrels sold last year and the 10.1 million sold the year before. Such companies employ 104,000 workers across the country, according to the Brewers Assn.

Craft beers have surged in popularity along with the rise of American beer gardens, consumers developing more specialized tastes, and a trend toward lower prices.


Still, the craft beer sector remains a minuscule slice of the overall beer market, which last year sold just under 200-million barrels and was valued at about $96 billion. As a whole, brewers saw sales slip 1% in 2011.

At the moment, 2,126 breweries are in operation across the country, up 350 since June 2011.

That’s nearly one new brewery opening for each day of the year. The industry hasn’t seen such a sharp spike since the end of Prohibition in the 1930s.

Of the total, 2075 — or 97% — are craft breweries. And 1,252 breweries are in planning stages – nearly double the number a year ago.


Last month, Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill defining which microbrews will be licensed, regulated and labeled as “beer” throughout the state.


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