The figures, released this week by trade body the Brewers Association, show that small and independent breweries collectively produced 24.8 million barrels of beer and realized 8% growth, against a backdrop of 1% volume growth in the overall beer market. This allowed craft to increase its share of the overall beer market by volume to 13.1%, up from 12.2% the previous year.
Retail dollar value was estimated at $26.9bn, representing 26.8% market share and 21% growth over 2020. This growth was driven by a return towards the on-premise, which has a higher average retail value.
Craft brewers provided more than 172,643 direct jobs, a 25% increase from 2020.
Return to pre-pandemic trends
Craft brewers suffered in 2020 with the closure of taprooms and the on-trade: posting a 9% decrease and suffering worse than the 3% decline in the overall beer market.
Last year, however, saw a return to the pre-pandemic state of affairs: with craft beer growth once again outpacing the overall beer market. And yet the pandemic has still left its mark on small breweries, according to Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association.
US craft brewer definition
- Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less
- Less than 25% of the brewery is owned/controlled by an alcoholic beverage entity that is not itself a craft brewer
“Craft brewer sales rebounded in 2021, lifted by the return of draught and at-the-brewery traffic,” he said.
“However, the mixed performance across business models and geographies as well as production levels that still lag 2019 suggest that many breweries remain in recovery mode. Add in continuing supply chain and pricing challenges, and 2022 will be a critical year for many brewers.”
One positive in 2020 was that the number of operating craft breweries grew: a trend which continued in 2021. There are now a record 9,118 craft breweries, including 1,886 microbreweries, 3,307 brewpubs, 3,702 taproom breweries, and 223 regional craft breweries.
The total operating brewery count was 9,247, up from 9,025 in 2020. Throughout the year, there were 646 new brewery openings and 178 closings.
However, the pace of new openings decreased for a second consecutive year, reflecting a more mature market. Ongoing pandemic challenges and rising interest rates were additional factors. The closing rate also declined in 2021, likely helped by a combination of better sales numbers and additional government relief through the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which was available to some brewpub and taproom brewers.
“While the boom in breweries of a few years before has certainly slowed, the continued growth in small breweries shows the solid foundation of demand for their businesses and beers,” added Watson.