Craft Breweries Expanding – Finding Success in the World of Beer

These days, it seems like craft breweries are everywhere. Anyone with enough money and time to set up a garage brewery is trying to market their brews. The sheer immensity and diversity of the craft brewing world has led to some pretty interesting things – lots of innovation and plenty of options. Still, there are some craft breweries that are really gaining prominence here. Some are even giving big brewing a run for its money. Who are the top craft brewers in the US?

1. Boston Beer Co.

This one should come as no surprise at all. Boston Beer Co., the parent company of Samuel Adams, has long enjoyed immense prominence in the world of craft brewing. They currently rank as the largest “craft” brewery in the US, though too much more success might make them have to leave the “craft” portion of that behind. 

2. Sierra Nevada

The second ranked craft brewery probably isn’t a surprise for most people either. Sierra Nevada has been around for a long time and they’ve earned a reputation for making some of the best beers in the world. While you might be most familiar with their Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, they do offer quite a wide range of options, including a very nice porter.

3. New Belgium Brewing Co.

Founded in 1991, New Belgium has grown considerably in recent years. Currently, the company is looking to expand their production to the East Coast (there are rumors that they’re going to western North Carolina or Eastern Tennesse). New Belgium offers a very wide range of excellent beers, with their 1554 Enlightened Black Ale and Fat Tire Amber Ale being two of their most notable.

4. Spoetzl Brewery

Located in Shiner, Texas, Spoetzl has been around for a very long time (founded in 1909). It is also the oldest brewery in the state, with distribution to almost all the contiguous states (41 and counting as of right now). Their Shiner Bock is probably their best known offering, though there are others.

5. Pyramid Breweries Inc.

Pyramid has only been around since 1994, but they’ve been pretty successful. That’s thanks in large part to their creative brews – Apricot Ale and Thunderhead IPA are only two of their options. Pyramid also has their hand in brewhouses and restaurants throughout Washington State, and is known as a leader in brewing fruit beers.

6. Deschutes Brewery

Deschutes Brewery comes to you out of Oregon. Their best known options include Mirror Pond Pale Ale and Black Butte Porter, but their special “The Abyss” is also growing in popularity. It’s an imperial stout and features 11% ABV – it’s also won several awards for the company.

7. Matt Brewing Co.

Located in New York, this family-owned brewery has been around for some time. They offer a range of different beers, but they also produce sodas on their property. Those not on the East Coast will have a hard time finding their products in stores, but it can be managed at times (try special ordering from your preferred retailer).

8. Magic Hat Brewing Co.

Magic Hat might not be the best known craft brewery out there, but they’ve definitely got a following (they’d have to in order to rank 8 out of thousands). The brewery puts out four beers throughout the year and they spice up their offerings with some seasonal brews too. Their most well-known offering is their #9 beer. 

9. Boulevard Brewing Co.

Boulevard got their start in Kansas City, MO. To date, they transport their brews to 20 different states, so you might have trouble finding a beer from Boulevard at your local watering hole. However, they’re ramping up their production capacity (up to 700,000 barrels per year capacity) and plan to expand their distribution so that might be changing pretty soon, depending on where you’re located.

10. Harpoon Brewery

Harpoon is located in Boston, MA, along with Boston Beer Co. They are intimately involved in the craft beer scene and overall culture of the city too – they’re sponsors of three different festivals during the year. Their best known offering is their India pale ale, though they do produce a range of other options, including their Munich Dark. 

What’s Responsible for Their Success?

The 10 breweries listed above are only a fraction of the microbrews and nano breweries in the US. What’s responsible for so much growth and success? Interestingly, a large part of craft beer’s success in the United States has been the backlash against mega corporations and faceless beer producers. While Budweiser certainly still enjoys the lion’s share of the spoils (read: profits), the fact that so many small brewing companies are making it big speaks volumes about the average American’s willingness to not only try something new, but to embrace original, inventive brewers that produce their beer out of love and a sense of pride.

Who’s Up and Coming within the Industry?

Answering the “up and coming” question is difficult. There are so many great breweries that haven’t yet cracked the top 10 – breweries like Anchor and Sweet Water Brewing come to mind. Of course, there’s plenty of room for all in the industry. That’s one of the things that set America’s craft brewing scene apart from other nations’ – the spirit of sharing, camaraderie and a willingness to help others succeed rather than seeing them as direct competitors that need to be put out of business for your own success. 

How long the industry will remain that way is open to interpretation. Obviously, competition breeds contempt for others, but so far America’s small brewers have been remarkably free of that. Only time will tell how the industry will transform and reshape itself over the years though. In the meantime, why not raise a pint or two of your favorite brews in salute to the amazing crafters at the helm of today’s small breweries and the spirit of invention that imbues those companies. 

Posted on October 3, 2011 and filed under Breweries, The Business of Beer.