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US beer statistics

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I was more than a little surprised that there seemed to be so little interest in European beer statistics, but that will not prevent me from posting the US beer statistics as promised.

First of all, the statistics are massive and it takes too much time to put everything in one post, so I will make a series of posts. The data is contained in a spreadsheet of 47 pages.

Secondly, the breweries, for example, are described as "traditional" and "specialty". I have not seen the marketing term "craft" anywhere.

On to the show:

The brewery statistics alone cover 1887-2012. However, the first brewery listing is for 1810: there were 150 at the time and according to Wikipedia, the US population at the time was a bit over 7 million. By 1887, the number of breweries had jumped to 2,269. Population at the time was about 62 million. From then until World War one, the number of breweries changed yearly, but generally heading downward. By 1914, the first year of the war, there were 1,392 breweries left.

Another chart lists annual production and per capita production from 1860, though not all years include per capita figures. It would seem from general production (given in barrels) that industrialised brewing was gaining ground. So, in 1865, 3,657,181 barrels were produced, but only one year later that jumped to 5,115,140. Another year later (1867) and production was up to 6,207,402 barrels.

In 1860, 3.8 barrels were produced per capita (total population), but by 1890, that had jumped to 13.6 barrels. Unfortunately, the number of breweries before 1887 is not given, but from 1887 until 1893 the number was 2000 plus or minus a bit.

By 1919, after the war ended, the number of breweries had fallen to 669. However, production peaked in 1914 at over 66 million barrels. During the war, the number kept falling and ended in just under 28 million in 1919.

The next part is a bit confusing to me. Between 1920 and 1932, the number of breweries is given as zero. However, these "no breweries" produced between 9 and 3 million barrels per year. I know about the US prohibition, but where did all this production come from?

Per capita production, meanwhile peaked before the war at almost 21 barrels per head.

It took until 1942 for production to reach pre-WW one levels. Strangely, all during World War two, production increased to 86 million in 1945.

The highest per capita production was in 1982-3 at about 26 barrels per person. Overall production continued growing and in 2012 was just under 196 million barrels or 19.3 per capita. Production peaked, however, in 1990 at over 203 million barrels and has been going up and down yearly since then. The lowest recent production was 2011 at just under 193 million.

The number of breweries peaked in 1941 at 857. The number was in free-fall until 1979, when it reached a number lower even than 1810: 44 (42 traditional and 2 specialty). The "specialty" brewery first appears in 1966 until a second is added in 1977. These numbers then start climbing and the "traditional" start falling. The last year when traditional and specialty numbers are given is 2010: 20 traditional and 2,111 specialty. However, a total for 2012 is given as 2,751.

That's all for today. There will be at least one other post with more data, hopefully by tomorrow.

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  1. I found them interesting. There just didn't seem to be much to discuss about them.

    7 Replies
    1. re: Josh

      That's a fair point.

      Though now with European and US statistics, it might be interesting to compare them.

      And I would still be quite interested if someone could explain how no breweries existed during prohibition, yet
      they still managed to produce 9 million barrels of beer.

      1. re: ThomasvanDale

        I know that legal spirits could be had with a prescription from a doctor. Not sure if beer was similarly sold. Also not sure if non-alcohol beer was included in those numbers.

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          Thanks, Jim. Unfortunately, the only description is "barrels". But, the non-alcohol beer sounds like a reasonable possibility, though what kind of company would make it?

        2. re: ThomasvanDale

          You haven't (that I've seen, anyway) cited your source for these statistics. From some of the wording, it sounds like your are using the US Brewers Association/Beer Institute's annual Brewers Almanac.

          According to contemporary reports during Prohibition, there were still 100's of licensed breweries after the Volstead Act went into effect, which had permits to legally brew beer, remove the alcohol and sell "under 0.5%" near beer/cereal beverage. 400 legal ones in 1925 (and over 500 illegal ones) according to a report by the Prohibition Commissioner.

          Near beer was never a big seller, and sales went down through Prohibition, but there were still approx. 150-200 legal, working breweries (sources vary) when 3.2 abw was legalized in 1933 by the Cullen Act.

          That is how in April, 1933 beer was able to hit the market only weeks after the law was passed in March, in many states (but not all- since many didn't change state laws in time). The Feds started letting the licensed near beer breweries brew full strength beer and not remove the alcohol in the months leading up to legalization.

          1. re: JessKidden

            This makes sense, although I still find it strange that the number of breweries listed is zero, and yet beer is produced. It seems to me this a flaw in the statistics.

            1. re: ThomasvanDale

              I supposed it's based on how the current Brewers Almanac defines both "brewery" and "malt beverage" (the legal term now for all "beer" including the "under 0.5%" cereal beverages).

              Here are the "Brewers in Operation" totals in the book "American Brewery Industry" (noted below), taken from US Census and US Brewers Foundation stats for some of the Prohibition years:

              1920 – 583
              1922 – 550
              1924 – 483
              1925 – 374
              1926 – 353
              1928 – 308
              1930 – 321
              1932 - 164

              (All other years are listed as "NA" - not available).

              Contrary to the above, wire service reports in 1932 about the prospects of Repeal gave the figure of near beer breweries at 211.

              I've always suspected that the discrepancy between the various reports on the number of still working breweries that were able to have beer brewed and ready to sell on April 7, 1933 is that some figures were for the licensed near beer breweries, and higher figures included breweries that had remained opened making malt syrup or other beverages, but did not have near beer permits.

              Also, some of the figures are the number of breweries that applied for 3.2 permits in March, '33 after the Cullen Act was passed (158 according to the NY Times) and it is possible that breweries in states that did not legalize beer by April may not have applied for Federal permits.

              1. re: JessKidden

                Thanks for adding the extra information. I'm sorry to say that a lot of it is beyond what I am familiar with. But, still appreciated.

      2. "The number of breweries peaked in 1941 at 857."

        Ah, OK - you seem to be using the current Excel file of The Brewers Almanac (downloadable at the Beer Institute's website). That "857" appears to be a typo which transposed the first two digits.

        All other sources* I have give "587" as number of US breweries in 1941, which makes more sense given the Almanac's:

        1940 - 684
        1942 - 523

        (Unlikely that nearly 200 new breweries would open in 1941, and then over 300 close the next).

        Most sources* note that US brewery numbers peaked in 1935 at 766 in the period between Repeal and the Craft Era.

        * American Brewing Industry and The Beer Market, 1958, w/stats from US Census and US Brewers Foundation
        and various post-Repeal editions of The Brewers Almanac.