The Session #67 – How Many Breweries in 2017?

This month’s Session is hosted by Derrick Peterman at Ramblings of a Beer Runner. The subject is numbers, and growth. The latest figures show that there are 2,126 breweries in the United States, a significant increase on the 1,449 that were in existence five years ago in 2007. Derrick has asked us to predict where we think that number will be in 2017, and why we think it will be that number.

Writing this as a Brit, it would be obvious of me to cover the industry in this country, which I shall do as well as touching on the American industry.

According to CAMRA, there were 840 breweries in the UK when the 2012 Good Beer Guide was published (in 2011). Since then some breweries have closed, and a lot of new breweries have started up. There is appproximately one brewery for every 70,000 people. In America, this ratio is 1:150,000. These numbers aren’t really representative of anything of real worth though. They don’t take into account that not everyone is a beer drinking, or of drinking age.

I think the key to growth is both locality and demand. The former will have much more of an impact in the US, yet I feel it should also be a factor in UK growth. The UK is in comparison to the US a small country. A beer can be transported from one end of the country to the other in a day. In the US, the same journey would take much longer, resulting in beer that wasn’t as fresh.

What I’d like to see is more smaller breweries supplying smaller communities. The best scenario I can imagine is a number of brewpubs opening across the country. Places where people can gather and drink beer. London has an increasing number of places which are like this. The Platform Tavern in Southampton is another good example of the sort of brewery/pub I’d like to see more of.

Whilst I can see the number of new breweries increasing, I can also see a number of breweries closing in the next five years, squeezed by tax and costs. I have a feeling that in the UK in five years time, there will be more breweries making less beer, with better quality. There will still be the brewers that some of us resent, but I think the current rise in “craft beer” in the UK will influence a wave of new brewers.

As for the US, I feel the distribution issue is what will drive growth. As many of the more popular brewers struggle to keep up with demand, drinkers should have to look closer to home for their regular beer. I feel this is how it should be anyway, on both sides of the Atlantic.

As for numbers, I can definitely see the UK break the 1,000 mark at some point, though I also imagine there will be a lot of closures as that number is approached. Both industries will continue to grow as long as the demand is there. I see no reason why the US industry can’t double from where it is now, and even break the 5,000 mark.

The keys are quality, locality and demand. There should be a good local beer in every village. If it’s good enough, others will demand it. If they can’t get it, they can drink their local brew. It’s a wonderful beer utopia.

It’d be even better if it could exist.


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