What is Craft Brewing Growth? You Tell Us!

So as not to bury the lede–if you are a brewer, please fill out our very brief mid-year survey.

How fast is craft brewing growing in 2016?

Over the past few days, there have been a rash of media stories about slowing craft brewing growth. That growth was slowing wasn’t new. Craft brewing growth slowed from 18 percent to 13 percent from 2014 to 2015, but that wasn’t a huge concern for the industry since the absolute growth of the industry was still very large. It’s only natural that as craft gets a larger and larger base, growth rates will slow. 3 million barrels added on top of 21 million = 14 percent growth. Three million on that new base = 12.5 percent. Three million on that base = 11 percent, and so on.

What was new was that the growth rates being reported dropped well below the curve described above. A few of the media stories have missed the point entirely (note to writers still working on these stories: decelerating growth is still growth and doesn’t equal a decline). Most stories have been more measured, but can only tell part of the story for a variety of reasons, including (you can read a longer piece on some of these issues here):

  1. They rely on scan data which only measures the off-premise (only about 2/3 of craft sales)–or an imperfect picture of retail channels
  2. Many of the data companies (even those that include the on-premise), now include brands from the large brewers in their craft definition. Not only are those large numbers which skew the figures, but they are also including brands that are typically growing more slowly.
  3. Because many of these changes were recent–writers are comparing growth using a previous data definition with the current one. Not surprisingly, the current oranges taste much less apple-ly than the apples from last year. This isn’t to fault the media–without being able to pull from the database yourself, there isn’t a way to see that today’s number isn’t measuring the same thing as previous figures.

None of these caveats should be interpreted as saying that growth hasn’t slowed–I think it’s pretty clear that even if you made these adjustments, it has. But slowing growth comes in many flavors. If craft were growing at 12 percent, there would be a very different mood than 6 percent.

So how do we know what the true number really is? By measuring total taxable production for a comparable base! And, because it’s July 1, we’re going to start doing that for the first half of the year in our annual BA survey.

So brewers, once you get your June numbers in, please take a minute to help us see what the true growth of small and independent brewers is in 2016. It’s particularly important that small brewers–those that sell a higher percentage of their volume in on-premise, at their taproom, or are otherwise missed by supermarket scans–fill out this survey.

Take a few minutes and let’s see what’s going on in today’s turbulent market.

Fill out the survey here:

Brewers Association 2016 Mid-Year Survey

Fill out my online form.

Or, just email me how your January through June 2016 sales volume compares to your January through June 2015 sales volume, either in barrels or percentage. (I can work with either.) From that we can make an estimate of a mid-year number.

All individual data points from this mid-year survey will remain confidential, and only industry-wide estimates will ever be released.

Bart Watson, Chief Economist for the Brewers Association, is a stats geek, beer lover, and Certified Cicerone®. He holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, where in addition to his dissertation, he completed a comprehensive survey of Bay Area brewpubs one pint at a time. You can follow him on Twitter @BrewersStats.

See 's recent articles and activities.