Thursday, June 14, 2007

Figuratively speaking

Sluggish growth for the big domestic brewers, double digit growth in craft beer. That’s from the Brewers Association earlier this spring, which took a look at supermarket sales from 2005 to 2006 in a snapshot of the nation’s craft beer industry.

The breakdown, according to the trade group, goes like this: 2.4% growth for the big brewers (personified here as Bud C. Miller), while craft beer saw a nearly 18% percent surge in sales. Craft beer is the alcoholic beverage industry’s segment to watch, boasts the Brewers Association.

Given that news, and with Garden State craft beer’s showcase festival coming up June 23rd, we wanted to see where New Jersey’s microbrewers and brewpubs were situated in the industry nationwide, and what the landscape, numerically speaking, looks like for the state’s craft beer business.

The Brewers Association was kind enough to pull together some production stats for us (a million thanks to BA director Paul Gatza, who took the time during a busy spring schedule to whip up the Excel files).

If you’re into figures, then you’ll be well-armed in case there’s a pop quiz at the 11th Annual Garden State Craft Brewers Festival aboard the USS New Jersey. (These numbers probably aren’t going to help you charm the ladies, and spouting them could just get you sucked into a beer geek debate or two.)

So sit back, pour a cold one and crunch some pretzels or Planters, while we crunch the numbers, with visual aids, too! (Some quick points: The stats are drawn from figures reported to the BA by member breweries and brewpubs. New Jersey-specific figures are for the years 2001-06. Also, click on the charts to enlarge them.)

• Top state producer of craft beer: California. That's probably no surprise to anyone who really follows the industry. Golden State craft brewers brewed up 1.3 million barrels (bbls) last year. Rounding out the top five: Ohio, Colorado, Oregon and our foamy neighbor to the north, New York.

California reigns as production king with nearly a half-million barrel advantage over Ohio (859,098 bbls). North Dakota finished last at 550 bbls.

In case you’re wondering (as we were and hence pursued this project), New Jersey came in 29th with 26,384 bbls. (That’s a 2.3% increase from ’05, by the way.) Our neighbors west and south are running laps around us: Delaware (20th) cranks out nearly twice as much craft beer as New Jersey, while Pennsylvania (14th) brews almost 4 1/2 times as much.

• Most disappointing stat (for some reason, this bugged us): Alaska, which in terms of population density has less than one person per square kilometer, compared to our nearly 300 people per square kilometer, is apparently more into craft beer than we are. Alaskan craft brewers made nearly 121,000 bbls last year (for 12th place). Maybe we’re crying in our beer for nothing, but geez we’re on the East Coast, anchored by the metropolitan poles of New York and Philadelphia. Sigh, even Montana finished better than we did, at 64,306 bbls to rank 17th.

We’re not, by any stretch, laying blame on the good New Jersey brewing folks who put the better beer beside our jazzed up steaks, barbecue and hot-off-the-grill dogs and burgers. Jersey is a tough place for any business to be in business. Get into an enterprise that comes with some added regulatory pressure (à la the alcoholic beverage industry) and you can put an exponent on the degree of difficulty. More on this issue at some point soon.

Moving on … Jersey-specific stats

• The Garden State’s top craft brewer is again Flying Fish. The Cherry Hill brewer is closing in on the 10,000 bbl mark (9,785 bbls, a 3.4% percent increase) and dominated the state’s craft beer production for the period observed. River Horse Brewing in Lambertville continues as the place horse (4,750 bbls), while taking show is High Point and its wheat beers. (See the charts for the production trends and the 2005-06 year-to-year micro results.)

• In the subset category of brewpubs, Triumph (Princeton) is tops at 1,310 bbls, followed by Harvest Moon (New Brunswick), 850 bbls. (See the chart for the top six brewpubs.)

• Gone but not forgotten: Heavyweight Brewing. The purveyor of the ever-interesting Perkuno’s Hammer (imperial porter) opted to pack things in last August, with an eye toward popping up on the PA side of the Delaware River in some form. But as beer scribe Lew Bryson has recounted on his blog (with some reminiscing) the Hammer was taken in as a foster child by Victory Brewing in PA.

• Worth mentioning: High Point – aka Ramstein – in Butler and Climax Brewing in Roselle Park were rated among the top 50 craft beers based on user reviews on (see the June 2007 issue of their hard copy mag). Also, Philadelphia's the City Paper gave top accolades to Flying Fish's Farmhouse Summer Ale in its rating of summer brews.

The Brewers Association is upbeat for 2007’s industry prospects, forecasting the nation's 1,400 craft brewers and brewpubs will top the $500 million sales mark. All stats aside, we’re going to pour another brew in support and follow the BA's lead.