The Brewers Association’s fact sheet tells us a lot, such as that there are presently 1,753 breweries operating in the US (give or take, since they also report that new breweries seem to bloom daily). Before we move on, let’s acknowledge one thing. That’s a ton of f’ing beer (fermenting!). We don’t have 1,753 carmakers or bluejeans brands or even record companies. Do we NEED that many breweries?
While some would argue that less is more, the consumers/voters unequivocally, resoundingly say “Yes” to more breweries. If they didn’t, growth wouldn’t be up 11 percent this year. If they didn’t, there’d be more closings than openings. Having said that, surely there must be a saturation point. And surely we must be rapidly approaching it. Right?
Well, in 1873, there were 4,131 breweries in the US. That’s 230 percent more than we boast today. But wait, the American population back then was just under 39 million people, meaning there was more than one brewery for every 10,000 citizens. Today there are almost 309 million. With eight times the number of people, applying the same brewery per capita rate would imply that there’s room for 800 percent more than the people of the 1870’s had, which equals 33,000 breweries.
Thirty-three thousand?! Ridiculous! Preposterous! Then again, that number is actually low, if you don’t trifle with only looking at licensed breweries. Ask any of the 750,000 homebrewers in this country if what they’re sporting in their backyard, garage, or kitchen isn’t a brewery, I dare you.
Scores of skilled, entrepreneurial homebrewers are eyeing opening their own pro brewery. Those who argue that there are too many breweries today generally mean we have a surfeit of packaging breweries—ones that vie for shelf space and perhaps too often get neglected by distributors. There are over 600 such breweries. Then again, there are 7,626 bonded wineries and I don’t see any wine-pubs around here. Since Americans drink over 30 percent more beer than wine, is it wrong to merely ask for 30 percent more breweries than we have wineries, so an even ten grand?