Kennedy: Craft beer keeps growing

434 craft breweries in New York alone
A tour of Schenectady's Frog Alley Brewing
A tour of Schenectady's Frog Alley Brewing

On a recent weekend trip to Boston to see Daughter No. 2, this declaration from the quintessential Millennial stayed with me: “Nobody goes to bars anymore; they go to craft breweries instead.”

She said it in the spirit of trying to get us to “do” something while there—like check out a new brewpub down the street – rather than just “visit.”

I recalled her statement this week as Paul Leone explained newly released data on craft beer and its 2018 economic impact in New York.

“Millennials are really driving this,” said Leone, executive director of the New York State Brewers Association. The generation is locally loyal, craves variety and experiences, and likes to know where its food is coming from—and “the craft industry is that,” he said.

The data from Leone’s group, released last week, put the number of craft breweries in the state at 434 and the industry’s total economic impact at $5.4 billion in 2018.

By local county last year, Albany had 10 breweries, Saratoga had seven, Rensselaer has five and Schenectady has four, the data show. Of the state’s 62 counties, only four have no breweries, including Montgomery County.

The statewide census is double what it was just a few years ago, thanks in large part to the creation of a farm brewery license that trades use of New York-grown ingredients for less red tape.

Leone said more than half of the state’s craft breweries operate with a farm license.

As of Jan. 1, at least 60 percent of the hops and 60 percent of all other ingredients used in breweries with farm licenses must be grown in New York. Before then, it was 20 percent.

Leone had no qualms that the new threshold could be met. “The supply is there,” he said.

Nationally, 2018 craft beer production—at nearly 26 million barrels—occurred in an overall down beer market, says the Colorado-based Brewers Association, a trade group for small and independent craft brewers.

Craft brewers, though, saw “fairly stable growth” and gained a bit of market share versus the big firms, according to the group, which released its 2018 nationwide growth report last week. It pegged U.S. craft breweries at 7,346, up from 6,490 in 2017.

The group ranked New York at No. 5 in the country in 2017, based on number of craft breweries, behind California, Washington State, Colorado and Michigan. 

Ahead of the new 2018 rankings expected next week, I asked Bart Watson, the association’s chief economist, whether New York might move up a notch or two, given the growth spurred by the farm brewery license.

“[B]reweries are growing everywhere,” he said, including in most of the top-ranked states. But he noted that regulatory reform, like that seen in New York, “is a critical piece in the growth of small and independent brewers.”

Marlene Kennedy is a freelance columnist. Opinions expressed in her column are her own and not necessarily the newspaper’s. Reach her at [email protected]

Categories: Business, News

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