In what has become a near constant stream of good news for the craft brewing industry, the Brewer’s Association has reported that American craft brewers exported over 110,000 barrels of beer in 2011, an 86% increase over 2010. These numbers top nine straight years of record breaking growth for the craft beer industry, in both production and export.
Highlighting the significance of this growth is the continued decline of domestic macrobrew sales, as well as the global economic downturn. It seems that even though most of the world’s consumers are spending less, they aren’t scrimping on their beer.
The increasing popularity of American craft brew is apparent when traveling abroad. I spent several weeks during Christmas in Barcelona, Spain, a place more associated with Sangria or Cava than beer. I nevertheless found a recently opened bottle shop near my hostel where the proprietor proudly showed me his impressive selection of beers from Rogue, an Oregon based brewery. He said he was the very first in Spain to offer American craft brew, and the packed bar testified to the popularity of the selection.
While Rogue is often the first to appear on foreign shores due to an aggressive exportation program, they are far from the only American craft brew brand to put down roots abroad. Stone Brewing, one of the most popular craft brew labels in the U.S, has announced that it will be opening a brewpub in Europe in either Belgium or Germany. A collaborative beer between the venerable Schneider Brewery of Munich and Brooklyn Brewery of New York brought American brewed beer into one of the oldest beer markets in the world.
While this renewed interest in craft beer has certainly benefitted American brewers, the craft brewing scene abroad is racing to meet demand. While living in Prague several years ago I had the pleasure of visiting some Europe’s oldest breweries, but I also saw some that had only recently opened their doors. While the Czech Republic is famous as the homeland of the Pilsner, I discovered that Prague’s younger brewers were more interested in exploring new styles than replicating old ones. I tried Czech Wheat beers, Ambers, and IPAs; styles that had either not been brewed there for hundreds of years, or never had. While many countries may have to rely on the U.S for craft beer, their options are clearly multiplying.
These foreign craft beers are already finding admirers in the U.S. One has only to go into a bottleshop to see that that American’s renewed interest in craft beer is not limited to domestic brews. Wildly experimental beers from brewers like Danish Mikkeller, Italian Le Baladin, or Japanese Hitachino all command high prices in specialty shops in the United States.
Though it is tempting to believe that this rising tide will lift all ships, I believe that the truth is more complicated. Faced with an increasing number of options, consumers have already become more discerning, macro producers being the first victims of this new reality. Looking at the current market share of craft beer (a little over 5%) reveals great room for growth however. As competitive as the craft brew market may be, any future expansion will most likely continue to come at the expense of Budweiser and Miller.