Craft Brewing Was Hurt by COVID, But There Are Reasons for Optimism

Volume, market share and job numbers dipped, but the number of small and independent breweries actually climbed

two bartenders grabbing beer from taps
Craft breweries experienced a 9% decline in volume in 2020
Adam Wilson / Unsplash

The COVID-19 epidemic was bad for craft distilleries and many vineyards. For craft beer? The numbers weren’t great, but losses were thankfully more modest than expected.

According to a new report by the Brewers Association (BA), small and independent brewers collectively produced 23.1 million barrels of beer and realized a 9% decline in 2020. Craft beer market share also dipped from 12.3% from 13.6% in 2019. Craft brewers provided more than 138,000 direct jobs, a 14% decrease from 2019.

(These numbers do not include statistics related to flavored “malt beverages, hard seltzers, cider or other beverage alcohol.”)

As VinePair notes, craft producers are defined by the BA as breweries which brew 6 million barrels or less annually and are less than 25 percent owned by a non-craft brewer.

statistical highlights from the Brewers Association 2020 report
Statistical highlights from the Brewers Association 2020 report
Brewers Association

Given that the overall beer market dropped by 3%, these craft beer numbers are definitely high. But they’re nowhere near the 55% drop in revenue experienced by craft distilleries.

“2020 was obviously a challenging year for many small brewers, but also one that proved their resilient and entrepreneurial nature,” said Bart Watson, BA’s chief economist. “In a year where U.S. draught sales were down more than 40%, small brewers found new ways to connect with their customers and keep their businesses running.”

Surprisingly, the number of craft breweries in the U.S. was up in 2020, albeit to a smaller degree than prior years: there was a net gain of 373 small and independent breweries in the last year. “While many small breweries will remain under pressure until they can fully reopen and welcome their communities into their breweries, the 2020 closing rate has remained on par with 2019, suggesting that the vast majority of breweries will survive going forward,” said Watson. 

We’ll drink to that.


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