Brewers Association sees slow, but consistent, growth in Wisconsin craft beer industry

Craft brewery production continues to rise throughout the U.S. with 4% production growth year-over-year, according to the Brewers Association 2019 midyear survey released in December.

That includes the Wisconsin craft beer market, which compared with other states has a growth rate in the middle, hovering between underserved markets like Texas and Florida and mature markets like Colorado and Oregon, said Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson.

The national production growth percentage was slightly down from 5% in 2018.

“I think this is consumer demand driven by beer lovers. We’re seeing a shift in the last 20 years towards a greater demand for more flavor and more diversity, locally made products from small and independent producers,” Watson said.

The Brewers Association reports there were over 8,000 breweries in 2019. The association estimated that about 300 breweries would have closed in the year. Eighty percent of U.S.-brewed craft beer is produced by companies that operate as independent craft breweries.

Watson reported that based on Brewers Association data, there were 27 active breweries in Milwaukee proper, with over half (15) opening in 2016. In comparison, Minneapolis had 40 active breweries while Detroit had 11.

“I will say that more breweries are looking to open up,” Watson said. “In terms of saturation, that becomes a local question. Breweries are shifting away from a production brewery model to more locally focused. That means that the question whether a community can support a brewery is a local one.”

In 2011 the Brewers Association had 73 breweries documented in Wisconsin. That number is now 206 active breweries in his database.

“That’s more than doubling, almost tripling. That’s slower than rate of national growth which is roughly quadrupled. Similarly in production, we’ve seen growth from small producers in Wisconsin. Wisconsin production hasn’t gone up that much in recent years,” Watson said.

Watson expects that in the upcoming year local breweries will attempt to stand out through the use of local ingredients. He added that it will be difficult for Wisconsin to brew completely local as the state doesn’t have a huge hop industry, but the state can use local grains or other local inputs.

Margaret Naczek, Milwaukee Business Journal

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