What’s Brewing? Will the craft beer bubble ever pop?
We all know the craft beer industry has been growing at exponential speed — not just here in Western Pennsylvania, but across the United States.
Some people are concerned the growth is reminiscent of the housing market that suddenly crashed in 2007. Is there such thing as a craft beer “bubble” and, if so, will it pop?
Multiple breweries are popping up each day in what seems like every other neighborhood across Western Pennsylvania and sweeping across our country. That’s no exaggeration.
In 2014, craft beer reached a double-digit (11 percent) share in the market place. In 2016, there were more than 4,000 breweries producing more than 22 million barrels of beer.
Today, there are around 7,000 breweries operating in the United States and craft beer counts for almost 13 percent of the market share.
Pennsylvania ranks sixth in the nation for having the most breweries. More than 290 breweries in Pennsylvania are producing greater than 3,724,010 barrels of craft beer per year.
That’s more beer than any other state produces.
Battling behind the scenes
The growth of the craft beer industry is so staggering that it has become a huge concern to the large-market mass beer producers. To keep their market share from shrinking any further, they continue to purchase smaller established craft breweries such as Elysian Brewing, Ballast Point, Anchor Brewing, Founders, Wicked Weed, Devil’s Backbone Brewing, Avery Brewing, Breckenridge Brewery, Blue Point, Terrapin Beer — and the list goes on.
Big beer companies even went out of their way to buy massive amounts of hops, thus creating a shortage to help squelch the growth of your local breweries.
Voodoo Brewing Co. — along with New Belgium, Left Hand and Harpoon — answered back by becoming employee-owned. This solidifies their independent existence, while telling local craft beer consumers that they’re here to stay and will continue to be part of their communities.
In addition, a logo was issued in 2017 by the American Brewers Association, which began appearing on craft beer bottles and cans. This logo certifies the beer was brewed from an independently owned brewery, which will make it a little more challenging for the big beer companies to look authentically crafty to unsuspecting consumers.
Look for the Independent Craft logo, which displays an upside-down beer bottle, next time you’re shopping.
Returning to our roots
When I have a beer with friends, especially those involved in the industry, someone will mention a new craft brewery that’s opening in the area. Inevitably, someone will speak of the possible craft beer “bubble” — which includes a conversation about how long until breweries are too close for comfort, inadvertently pinching each other out of business.
Most certainly the opening of new craft breweries will slow down, but those that are here now aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. We are still in the process of enjoying and educating ourselves about a beverage that was largely flavorless for years.
We seem to be returning to a time in the past — a time in which bread, cheese and meat were purchased at different mom-and-pop shops because those local families only produced one thing, and produced it well.
What I haven’t heard anyone talk about is the business of the local bar. How are they responding to all these breweries that not only make great-tasting local craft beer but also provide artisan local food, local wines and spirits?
Four Seasons Brewing Co. is just one great example of a brewery with 16 taps offering rotating beers, mead, cider, Dark ‘n Stormy from Maggie’s Farm Rum, growlers, aged bottles of beer for sale and artisan food trucks a few times each week.
Soon, Four Seasons will have its own kitchen to serve the packed house of patrons as they listen to live music on the weekends. That’s a whole lot of local goodness for any bar to compete with.
Breweries are the new watering hole for those who know what they want and expect quality while relishing in the support they’re providing to their own community.
I don’t think a craft beer “bubble” exists, unless we’re talking about the little ones in our beer. And the only popping sound we’ll hear is that of more caps coming off of beer bottles in the future. Cheers!
Check out these tasty local craft beers on tap in your area.
Four Seasons Brewing Co. Pub (Latrobe): Nebulous (7.4% ABV): This New England-style IPA has a nice hazy, lemony color with big, juicy flavors that follow aromas of citrus, pineapple, grapefruit and tropical fruits.
Helltown Brewing (Export): Mischievous Brown Ale (5.5% ABV): A brown ale with a taste that follows a nose of caramel, toffee, nuts and roasted malts. Hint of chocolate or cocoa as well on the finish.
Fury Brewing (Irwin): Sid’s 1k IPA (7.1% ABV): This American IPA is a West Coast-meets-East Coast IPA brewed with Warrior, Amarillo and Citra hops. Slight bitterness up front rounds off to a most enjoyable finish. This was brewed in honor of Sidney Crosby’s 1,000th point!
Devout Brewing (Export): Honey Blonde Ale (7% ABV): This Belgian blond ale is mildly fruity and spicy. Fermented with clover honey, too!
Mark Brewer is a Tribune-Review contributing writer. He’s the author and illustrator of “Brewology, An Illustrated Dictionary for Beer Lovers.”