Craft Beer is Hitting it Out of the Park

brewery district great americanMy friend Kory warned me that Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati had basically constructed a shrine to craft beer. No, it’s more like a grand temple.

As we walked into the park recently to attend a Reds-Cubs tilt, he motioned to his left and said, “The craft beer booth is down there.”

Booth? Temple.

This thing is 85 feet of tap upon tap upon tap (60 in all), under a sign reading, “Brewery District.” Some of the offerings include draft versions of Cincinnati’s own Christian Moerlein Over the Rhine, Lexington, Ky.’s West Sixth Amber, Blank Slate Lesser Path, Rivertown Seasonal Alt, Great Lakes Burning River and more. Rows of red-lit barrels sit behind the bar and there is even a big fake grain silo to make you think at a glance there’s an actual brewery nearby.

At nine bucks each for a 16-ounce size pour, it does seem pricey, but it isn’t so bad when you consider that across the concourse they’re getting $7.50 for a Bud Light. (Of course, the large 24-ounce pour at $13 does seem a bit much. Heck, you can almost get two growlers filled for that price at your local brewery.)

But the point is that until recently, you couldn’t get a craft beer at many stadiums to save your life – well, unless you consider Beck’s or Stella Artois to be craft beers. It was almost all corporate light – along with maybe an occasional Labatt if you’re in Detroit.

The recent Craft Brewers Conference, held last month in Denver, offered some statistics to explain why something like the Brewery District would happen at a Major League park. You ready?

In 2013, overall beer sales were down by 2 percent. Craft beer sales, meanwhile, saw an 18 percent increase. Think about that. Studies have shown beer drinkers are moving toward distilled spirits in big numbers – not surprising, considering what beer had become until recent years – but the craft beer movement is simply on fire.

0428141755b(1)Last year, 15.6 million barrels of craft beer got quaffed, which is 2.3 million more than in 2012. And as of the end of 2013, 2,768 craft breweries – including brewpubs, microbreweries and regional craft breweries – were in business, including 413 new breweries that opened. Of those new craft breweries, there were 65 in California alone.

But the figure that jumped out at me was the number of craft breweries that are in the ramping-up stages of opening. That number is an astounding 1,744. No, that it is not a misprint. You’re talking about a projected nearly four times as many new breweries in 2014 as in 2013. If that number is reasonably accurate, and even a large percentage of them actually opens this year, you’re looking at roughly 60 percent growth.

It’s also worth mentioning that the current capacity of craft breweries in operation is not at 100 percent – there is plenty of room for production growth in existing operations. Five reasons for optimism the Craft Brewers Association cited include:

  • Growth in craft barrels and the percentage is  rapidly accelerating
  • Large retailers are coming around
  • Legislators are recognizing value of local craft breweries
  • New states are discovering craft beer
  • The capacity pipeline is keeping up with growth

You gotta believe InBev and MillerCoors execs somewhere in big corner offices are pacing the floors. Might be time for them to break the seal, because it seems pretty clear this craft beer thing isn’t going away.

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