‘A big year for small beer’: 10 trend highlights for US craft beer in 2016

By Rachel Arthur

- Last updated on GMT

What are the top trends in US craft beer? Pic:iStock/tab1962
What are the top trends in US craft beer? Pic:iStock/tab1962

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The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association for small and independent US brewers, looks back on the defining trends of 2016 for the craft beer industry. 

The association sums up the year as one of 'numerous opportunities and challenges', with the beer community continuing to grow and evolve.  

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewer as one that is small, independent and traditional: producing 6m barrels or less of beer a year, and with less than 25% of the brewery owned or controlled by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

10 trend highlights for craft beer

beer in a brewery
Pic: iStock

Brewery Count​ 

There are now 5,005 breweries in the US, and almost all of these (99%) are small and independent craft brewers. In comparison, there are 10,000 wineries.

Growth and More Growth​ 

As craft's base gets larger, it becomes harder to grow at the same percentage rate. However, the Brewers Association continues to see 'tremendous dynamism' in the category. According to mid-year data in July, production volumes grew by eight percent​ in the first half of the year.

Never Go Out of Styles 

IPAs continue to hop up, now accounting for around a quarter of craft beer volumes. These are identified as huge driver of craft,​ 'as much a platform for innovation as they are a single style'. Also noteworthy is the rise of more sessionable styles, including golden ales, pilseners and pale lagers: these are up 33%, now accounting for nearly 5% of the craft beer market.  

Freedom of Choice​ 

2016 was a momentous year for the global brewing industry with the merger of AB InBev and SABMiller.​ Throughout the process of the merger, The Brewers Association advocated for fair competition​ for small and independent craft brewers and access to market: something it says is particularly important to ensure beer enthusiasts can continue to access a vast variety of options.

beer hops ingredients credit zmurciuk_k


The American Homebrewers Association estimates there are now around 1.2m homebrewers in the US. These support numerous businesses such as homebrew shops, equipment suppliers, raw material producers, and more. Consequently, the homebrewing community supports around 11,000 jobs, resulting in more than $1bn in spending and over $700m in revenues.


More than 7% of craft beer sales (by volume) are made at breweries themselves. It is estimated that more than 10m people tour US craft breweries a year. In 2016, Travelocity, with the help of the The Brewers Association, created the Beer Tourism Index​.

Eyes on Exports

Craft beer export volume has increased by 16.3%,​ totaling 446,151 barrels and worth $116m. Growth has been seen in all major markets: but of note is the rise in Western Europe (up 34%), while Ireland, the Netherlands, Thailand and Taiwan are the fastest growing markets. More than 100 small and independent craft brewers export their beer internationally, which The Brewers Association sees as a factor in growing recognition and respect for American brewers.

Bipartisan Beer Support 

Craft breweries exist in nearly every congressional district in the US, and more than half of the US Congress now supports the Craft Beverage Modernization and Tax Reform Act​. The Brewers Association says it has been a key player in moving forward this bipartisan legislation that seeks to recalibrate the current federal excise tax structure for the nation's brewers and 'reform burdensome laws regulating America's brewing industry'.

Beer History

With support from the Brewers Association, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History is launching a three-year initiative​ to collect, document and preserve the history of brewing, craft brewers and the beer industry in the US. In fact, the job posting for a historian to study brewing history was one of the most viral beer stories of the year.

Perfect Pairings​ 

Beer and food continue to find harmony on plates and palates. Consumers are increasingly aware about the potential to match beer and food: 73% of craft beer consumers gave "complements my meal" as a very or somewhat important selection criteria for beer when dining out. Meanwhile, 63% of drinkers select beer based on the food item or meal they are eating.

BA food beer clip

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