Hipster fightback: Craft beer sales have started to slow in the US despite reaching a record number of breweries

Francesca Washtell
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Burgeoning Craft Beer Industry Creates Niche Market For Limited Release Beers
More breweries, but fewer pours in the first half of this year (Source: Getty)

Craft beer's seemingly indomitable rise slowed down in the US during the first half of this year, despite a record number of breweries operating in the country.

Sales of craft beer increased by eight per cent in the six months to June, according to figures released by the Brewers Association.

However, in the same period of last year, sales grew by 16 per cent, which was already a marginal slowdown from the 18 per cent growth recorded in the first half of 2014.

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Craft beer sales grew by 13 per cent across the whole of last year.

Despite drinkers developing less of a taste for the booze, a record number of 4,656 craft breweries were operating in the US by 30 June, an increase of 917 breweries over the first half of last year. Another 2,200 breweries are also in the works.

The Brewers Association defines an American craft brewer as "small", with annual production of six million barrels of beer or less, "independent", with less than 25 per cent of the brewery being owned or controlled by an industry member that is not itself a craft beer and, finally, "traditional", meaning it is producing beers "whose flavour derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation".

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“While the craft brewing industry is entering a period of maturation, most markets are not near saturation,” Bart Watson, chief economist at the Brewers Association, said.

“As craft’s base gets larger, as with any industry, it becomes more difficult for it to grow at the same percentage rate. Yet there is still tremendous dynamism reflected in eight percent growth for craft. Production growth of small and independent craft brewers continues to be one of the main bright spots for domestic beer in the U.S. Even in a more competitive market, for the vast majority of small and independent brewers, opportunities still exist.”

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Almost 122,000 full-time and part-time workers are employed by craft brewers in the US, which is the world's largest craft beer industry.

The US Department of Justice recently ensured craft and smaller brewers were protected by the megabrew deal between AB InBev and SABMiller.

The justice department cleared the deal last week, adding that the brewer's would need to sell of SABMiller's stake in MillerCoors and curb AB InBev's incentive programme - both of which measures will keep competition fairer in the US beer market.

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