10 takeaways from the 2016 Craft Brewers Conference

Still growing

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The 2016 Craft Brewers Conference // Photo © Brewers Association

The dynamic growth of craft brewing in the past year was on display at CBC 2016. More than 13,500 members of the craft brewing industry gathered at the Pennsylvania Convention Center to attend 74 seminars given by 125 speakers, making it the biggest meeting in the conference’s 33 years.

In the Brewers Association’s annual State of the Industry address, BA economist Bart Watson presented the latest economic data on the industry:

  • Craft beer’s market share rose from 11% in 2014 to 12% in 2015
  • 4,200 craft breweries are currently operating in the U.S. That’s up from roughly 3,700 craft breweries at the end of 2014. Perhaps more astounding is the fact there were 6,000 active TTB licenses at the end of 2015, meaning the number of brewery openings is not going to slow any time soon.
  • In 2015, 620 craft breweries opened, while only 67 craft breweries closed. Watson projected the number of closures to rise in 2016 and beyond.
  • Jobs in craft beer rose to 122,000 in 2015, an increase of 7,000 from 2014.
  • Microbreweries enjoyed the biggest growth in production of craft beer in 2015. Last year, the segment produced 3.93 million barrels, an increase of 24.2% from 2014.
  • U.S. craft beer exports grew by 16% to 446,151 barrels of beer in 2015

Beer is serious business…

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The 2016 Craft Brewers Conference // Photo © Brewers Association

Craft beer is often thought of as a light-hearted industry made up of fun-loving misfits with independent spirits and gnarly facial hair. While some of that rings true, the industry is maturing into a serious one on every level. The unprecedented number of breweries in the U.S. means increased competition for not only shelf space at retail stores and tap lines at bars and restaurants, but also for the attention of craft beer drinkers.

The bar for breweries entering the market has certainly been raised over the past year. “The days of ‘brew it and they will come’ are far over,” said Ginger Johnson of Women Enjoying Beer during a presentation titled Marketing 101 for the Start-up Brewery. That means new breweries need to open with a fully fleshed-out marketing plan and a staff member whose job is solely focused on marketing.

Another sign of the seriousness of the craft beer industry can be found in its economic impact on supporting industries like tank manufacturers, flooring companies, and packaging providers. It’s estimated that craft brewers have contributed to the creation of 300,000 jobs outside of the brewhouse in these supporting industries. (One need only walk the floor of the BrewExpo America trade show, where 853 exhibitors were present to display their products and talk to brewers, for proof.)

…but it’s still a lot of fun

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The 2016 Craft Brewers Conference // Photo © Brewers Association

The spirit and energy of conference attendees was palpable. You may or may not have guessed, but as serious as brewers are about their craft, they also party with that same level of creativity and intensity. The City of Brotherly Love was a befitting motto for the host city. Philadelphia is a great beer city, and the red carpet was rolled out for America’s beer businesses. At every gathering, large and small, brewers and beer industry representatives were in fine spirits. Through all the talk technical talk on brewing and prognostication about what the ‘MegaBrewer’ deal will mean for craft beer, the overwhelming vibe was that of shared mutual interest and the collaborative community that makes craft beer unique.

Next page: IPA is still king

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