Last week, the Brewers Association (BA) released 2016 growth data on the U.S. craft brewing market. Applying its definition to a “craft brewery,” the BA cited craft brewers produced 24.6 million barrels of beer and saw a 6 percent rise in volume and a 10 percent increase in retail dollar value. Well, that’s actually a slowing. In 2015, the craft industry touted more than double that growth with 13 percent. Why the slowdown?
Well, a crowded marketplace with more than 5,300 breweries for starters, but let’s also point our fat, stubby fingers at Big Beer (always fun to do). According to the report, by adding 1.4 million barrels last year, craft brewery beer growth actually outpaced the 1.2 million barrels lost from the craft segment. Lost? What? How? It’s based on purchases by large beverage companies. That means mega brewers like Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and Heineken have been investing or outright buying craft brands, so those brands (Lagunitas, Founders, Terrapin, Devil’s Backbone, etc.) are no longer considered craft. So when it comes to market share, Big Beer (read: corporate beverage rollups) is growing more and small independent breweries are growing less.
This looks to continue. We point our chubby stubs once again — in the direction of Los Angeles-based Golden Road Brewing. Since Golden Roads’ acquisition by AB InBev in 2015, LA’s biggest brewhouse has been aggressively expanding in distribution all over the United States and in brewing destinations all over California. The brewery is currently constructing a brewing outpost in Anaheim, has already secured space in LA’s Grand Central Market and even opened a restaurant at LAX (its Point the Way Café). Golden Road has also announced new destinations in both Sacramento (last year) and (now) in Oakland.
The East Bay Express, an excellent alt tabloid, wrote a story last week titled: “AB InBev’s Corporate Craft Brand Isn’t Coming to Oakland To Make Beer Buddies. It’s Coming To Dominate.” That’s exactly right. From the article:
Permits filed with the city of Oakland this month show that Golden Road is planning to open a 7,000-square-foot facility and beer garden in North Oakland, which will take up three lots on 40th Street between Broadway and Manila Avenue. According to an application with the Planning and Zoning Division, Golden Road intends to brew on site, serve food, and also feature an outdoor beer garden with fire pits. And the entire structure will be — wait for it — constructed out of reclaimed shipping containers.
The article also notes that AB InBev purchased Oakland-based wholesaler Horizon Beverage Co. in 2015. Just to recap, this is how large beverage monopolies play the game.
- Create faux-craft brands.
- Buy up real craft brands but shadily treat them as separate entities.
- Control distribution. In fact, pay wholesalers to only distribute their brands.
- Overwhelm the marketplace.
Now we’re seeing that AB InBev is looking to attack specific regional markets with the localized brewing brands its purchased, and let’s not forget Beer Voltron has bought nine American craft breweries over the past six years. Very soon (if not already), one of those brands will be in your neighborhood — and not just on the grocery store shelf or on tap at bars — but as an actual entertainment beer destination that will help grow its brand presence in specific markets.
There goes the neighborhood.