The Year in Beer 2014

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Minnesota has seen significant growth in craft beer over the past 12 months, and all signs point to an equally impressive 2015.

By our count Minnesota currently has more than 75 breweries and brewpubs in operation. We now have more breweries in the state than we have had at any point since Prohibition. In addition to the breweries in operation, we’re also aware of at least another dozen in the planning stages.

This might lead you to believe that craft beer’s continued growth is unsustainable—that there has to be a saturation point on the not-so-distant horizon.

I feel it is my duty to tell you that you are, in fact, wrong.

Craft beer continues to impress analysts and investors locally and nationally as it pursues market share from “Big Beer.” Setting historic benchmarks in terms of brewery numbers and volume, craft beer continues to broaden its consumer base and geographic footprint.

Growth

Breweries are opening in the United States at a rate of 1.5 per day. As we close out 2014 there are more than 3,200 breweries in the country and more than 2,000 in planning, bringing the total number of brewery licenses to a new high at more than 4,500.

“Year over year we’re seeing tremendous growth in the craft beer sector, and 2014 proved that craft beer is moving into the mainstream,” says Bart Watson, chief economist for the Brewers Association. “Consumers are making a conscious choice to buy and try the plethora of options produced by small and independent craft brewers.”

Bursting the idea of a “craft beer bubble,” Watson believes, “[M]ore and more breweries will spur innovation, meaning there will be even more offerings on hand for beer geeks and beginners to enjoy.”

Dan Schwarz, co-founder of Lift Bridge Brewing Company and president of the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild, echoes this sentiment.

“The robust growth in all areas is very exciting. We see new breweries starting up in every part of the state,” Schwarz said in an interview. “Established breweries continue to grow and are expanding. There are new beer styles, new business models, and adoption of Minnesota craft beer surges ahead.”

According to Schwarz, the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild began the year with 48 registered member breweries and ended the year with 63. “The increase is just over 30%, which is double the average growth rate nationwide.”

Quality

I recently sat on a panel for the Minnesota Craft Brewer’s Guild focusing on consumer trends and predictions for Minnesota’s craft beer industry. The panel was made up of brewery representatives, media, and industry insiders. Among the topics discussed were growth and competition, though the panel overwhelming agreed that the future of craft beer in Minnesota would be determined by quality.

When each panelist was given an opportunity to share their parting thoughts, each of the individuals on the panel hammered home to a room full of Minnesota brewers that the most important thing they can each be doing to further the progress of craft beer in Minnesota is to make quality beer and to help one another do so.

Hell, Mark Stutrud even offers up Summit Brewing’s quality assurance lab to member breweries interested in testing their beer in a controlled environment.

One statement that stuck with me came from Stutrud, owner and founder of Summit Brewing Company. Stutrud suggested that he and other craft brewers should be working together to maintain and grow their collective market segment against more than just “Big Beer.” This year saw a significant shift of consumers away from beer to wine and spirits—a potential threat to the bottom line for craft brewers and macrobrewers alike.

That sentiment shows why craft beer is unique. It says a lot about the craft beer community in Minnesota. It says a lot about Mr. Studrud, who has been in this game almost as long as the most seasoned craft beer brass in this state. Hearing him tell a room full of Minnesota brewers that banding together and helping one another make great beer is the best way for this community to flourish reminded me why we all love this industry and this community so much.

Predictions

We are entering a golden age in American craft brewing. Breweries are opening at a more rapid pace than ever before and there is plenty of room for more breweries in Minnesota and the national market.

One trend that has stood out to me in beer in 2014 is a return to localism in our buying decisions. It was not long ago that limited options for great examples of any given individual styles from Minnesota producers led those of us interested in finding variety in style and flavor to turn to nationally recognized brewers. Lagunitas, Deschutes, Odell, Stone, Brooklyn, and others brew great examples of styles that were not being widely produced in Minnesota. Fast forward to 2014 and abundant examples of great craft beer are being made right here in the Land of 10,000 Beers.

I think we will continue to see small producers focusing on specific genres or styles of beer. Larger regional and national breweries will continue to produce wide product portfolios, but we will also see breweries dedicated to making specific styles or categories of beer. Examples of this trend are already popping up all over the state of Minnesota and the nation, and I predict a continuing trend toward small breweries and artisan beers.

As our appreciation for varying styles and flavors widens, so does our appreciation for session beers. In the first several years of the craft beer revolution taking place across the state, the region, and the country, aggressively hopped beer was the most widely sought after category. As the average consumer’s palate has matured and the availability of different styles has become more prevalent, people seem increasingly open to new experiences in beer. One example of this is a return to the appreciation for the lower alcohol beers that clearly influenced our craft brewers to create sessionable beers with character.

Another thing to keep an eye out for in 2015 is collaboration. The Growler was lucky enough to help curate the brewery collaborations for In Cahoots this past summer, where eight Minnesota breweries worked in pairs to produce four collaboration beers for a block party at the Red Stag Supperclub in Minneapolis. I was pleasantly surprised at how eager the participating breweries were to open their breweries to the competition, to share trade secrets, and to work together to make something they had never produced before.

There have been some high profile examples of collaboration by Minnesota breweries. Surly and its music and beer collaborations included a Doomtree beer in 2014. My prediction is that we will see many more craft breweries putting their heads together to create new, exciting beers in 2015 and beyond.

 

 
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