Last week, I pointed to numbers from the Brewers Association showing that, yet again, craft breweries grew in 2009. But you know, damn lies and statistics. I shot off an email to Brian Butenschoen, director of the Oregon Brewers Guild, to get a sense of what these numbers mean.
He said that in 2008--the last years for which he has numbers, Oregon craft breweries produced 912,000 barrels. That was 10.7% of the entire production of the annual total for that year. Cool, right? But then it occurred to me: Boston Beer brews nearly 2 million barrels. So I kept on thinking.
In 2009, craft breweries produced 9.1 million barrels of beer. That sounds like a lot, until you do the math. According to BA, there were also 1565 craft breweries in the US in '09, so that means each one produced just an average of 5,750 barrels. But as Boston Beer shows, not all breweries are near the mean. To their total, add Sierra Nevada's 700,000 or so, New Belgium's roughly 400,000, and the next few--Deschutes and Widmer among them--with a few thousand apiece, and you can probably knock 4 million of those barrels off the list. Say that leaves you with 1550 craft breweries, now producing five million barrels. That's just an average of 3,225 barrels per brewery. That ain't chopped liver, but it's pretty easy to grow at 7% when your base is three thousand barrels. (To hit that mark, you'd only have to brew 3,255 barrels the next year.)
All of which is to say, the numbers, while good, don't tell the whole story.