Craft beer is growing, and these are the biggest craft breweries in the nation. Your new champion? Like Michael Jackson’s “You Are Not Alone” did in 1995, Yuengling has debuted at #1 on the chart.
For an industry that prides itself on small producers, craft beer loves talking about how big it’s getting (11% market share). They’re also more than happy to keep the numbers inflated by constantly changing the rules. Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams) got too big (> 2 million barrels) to be called craft beer a few years back, so they simply raised the limit on production. Need another boost? Change the definition in 2014 to allow adjunct brewing and suddenly you’ve added another 2.5 millions barrels from Yuengling and 500k from Schell and Minhas.
My real problem isn’t with rules dictating what craft beer is. I understand the craft industry still needs to band together to have any weight against potential unfair/shady distribution practices of macro. My problem is with what we pretend craft beer is.
Do Yuengling or Sam Adams taste better than Budweiser? Yes. Are they made any differently? No. The top end volume of craft beer doesn’t come from a couple guys slaving away over recipes in a tiny brewery. It’s from mass produced craft beer, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Look at this this way. Stone Brewing is just the 9th largest craft brewer and has distribution in 41 states plus Puerto Rico. Their production was 287K barrels last year. By any metric thats a big brewer, and Stone Brewing proves that scale absolutely nothing to do with quality. Speaking of which, being craft doesn’t innately make beer good.
Learning which are the biggest craft breweries is fun, but don’t put too much stock in it. Seek out great craft beer regardless of whether or not someone on UnTapped has head of it. You don’t have to drink limited production like Dogfish 120 or gloriously named Stone Sublimely Self-Righteous Black IPA to prove that you love good beer.