The American brewing industry reached another milestone at the end of June, with more than 3,000 breweries operating for all or part of the month (3,040 to be precise). Although precise numbers from the 19th century are difficult to confirm, this is likely the first time the United States has crossed the 3,000 brewery barrier since the 1870s. Wieren (1995) notes that the Internal Revenue Department counted 2,830 “ale and lager breweries in operation” in 1880, down from a high point of 4,131 in 1873.
What does 3,000 breweries mean? For one, it represents a return to the localization of beer production, with almost 99% of the 3,040 breweries being small and independent. The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a local brewery, and with almost 2,000 planning breweries in the BA database, that percentage is only going to climb in the coming years.
Secondly, it means that competition continues to increase, and that brewers will need to further differentiate and focus on quality if they are going to succeed in a crowded marketplace. While a national brewery number is fairly irrelevant without understanding local marketplaces, 3,040 breweries could not happen without increased competition in many localities.
What it does not mean is that we’ve reached a saturation point. Most of the new entrants continue to be small and local, operating in neighborhoods or towns. What it means to be a brewery is shifting, back toward an era when breweries were largely local, and operated as a neighborhood bar or restaurant. How many neighborhoods in the country could still stand to gain from a high-quality brewpub or micro taproom? While a return to the per capita ratio of 1873 seems unlikely (that would mean more than 30,000 breweries), the resurgence of American brewing is far from over.
BA Brewery Definition: The Brewers Association brewery count is based on the number of brewing facilities actively selling beer in the marketplace. Inclusion in the count requires having a Brewers Notice from TTB and paying federal excise taxes on beer. In addition, this count only includes brewing facilities that are not counted as someone else’s facility (to prevent double-counting). This number does not include breweries in planning or alternating proprietorships, which may be included when only counting brewing licenses, nor does it count contract brewers, who do not have a Brewers Notice. Unlike the U.S. Census Bureau figures, which are based on NAICS codes (North American Industrial Classification System), it does count brewpubs and other breweries that engage in business activities beyond brewing, assuming they meet the criteria above.