The Session #67: How Many Breweries in 2017?

The SessionWelcome to the first Friday of September and thus time for beer bloggers to gather at the bar to engage in The Session: a collaborative blogging effort by which we all weigh in on a particular topic or theme. This month, The Session is hosted by Derrick Peterman of Ramblings of a Beer Runner and he’s looked to the latest Brewers Association report for inspiration: How Many Breweries in 2017?

[The BA] counted exactly 2,126 breweries in the United States.  To put that into context, you have to go way back to 1887 when the United States had that many breweries.  It’s an astonishing 47% increase from just five years ago in 2007 when the tally was a mere 1,449, despite the United States slowly recovering from a serious recession over this period.  And according to the Brewers Association, another whopping 1,252 breweries are in the planning stages.

Where is it all going?   The growth shows no sign of stopping and the biggest problem most breweries have is that they can’t brew beer fast enough.  But can the market really absorb all these new breweries?   Are we headed for a cataclysmic brewing bubble where legions of brewers, their big dreams busted, are left to contemplate selling insurance?  Or is brewing reaching a critical mass, only to explode even more intensely in a thermo-nuclear frenzy of fermentation?

Now you have a chance to weigh in on these questions.  For this month’s Session, tell us how many breweries the Brewer’s Association will count five years from now in 2017, and why you think it will be that number.

If we strictly look to the 47% increase statistic quoted above, that gives us roughly 3,125 breweries by 2017. I think this is a perfectly reasonable number, but then I also think (based on looking at the past trends and the current BA-reported growth) anywhere from 2,500 to 4,000 is also reasonable. But really? I don’t know.

Nobody does!

I can model a big part of that uncertainty to my hometown of Bend and the Central Oregon region: the growth in the beer sector in this relatively tiny region is outstripping many other places in the country, and despite whatever anyone tells you, nobody really knows why! You simply need to look at my Bend, Oregon tag or check the sidebar (15 active brewing companies and 6 possibles) to get a sense of the tremendous growth in this sector here—and I’ve said more than once, a few years ago (when we were merely at 8 or 9) that we were at our limit!

Is Central Oregon an anomaly? You bet! Is there any sign of stopping? No way. As unlikely as it seems, all the brewing companies here are doing very well, and we run the gamut of variety: the fifth-largest craft brewer in the country that distributes in the western half of the United States all the way down to a garage-based modern-old-world brewery focusing on the “beer ideal” and everything in between.

And it is this unpredictability that keeps me from being able to guess what the brewery count in 2017 will look like. It may explode across the country like Central Oregon is doing; it may implode in a burst bubble like the turn of the millennium. I just don’t know. And many of my perceptions are colored by the Bend beer microcosm.

I think it’s safe to say that the growth will continue, though it’s important to note that not every brewery will be successful: many will close. I’m on the fence as to whether we’re in the midst of (another) brewery bubble: I think it’s possible, but I also think that the “bubble threshold” may be a ways off yet. If there is a bubble, I don’t think it’s bursting will be as severe as the late 90s/early 2000s.

In the meantime, I think I’m comfortable with the 47% growth Derrick quoted and the 3,125 I extrapolated from that; though I have to say, in certain pockets like Central Oregon, I think the growth will continue to be an anomaly.

While we’re waiting to see, though, I’m going to have another beer.

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