Craft Breweries On the Rise
Craft Beer Movement Propels Independent Brewers
Story by John Thomas
The nation’s independent breweries are doing battle with giant multi-national beer producers. And they are winning. The five largest beer brewers in the world are Anheuser-Busch, MillerCoors, Heineken, Pabst, and Diageo, (producer of Guinness). These top five produce just over half the world’s beer supply. But, their grip on the market is slipping. For the past ten years, the major brewers have seen sales fall 14 percent. Few of them, if any, have opened new brewing facilities during the same time. In 1989 there were 1,991 permitted craft breweries in the US. As of the end of 2016, the number had jumped to 7,190 a difference of 261%. New York State is firmly ensconced in this pack with 394 breweries (of all sizes), ranking only behind California with 927. All together small breweries added $67.8 billion to the US economy in 2016, while providing 456,000 jobs.
It’s the small craft beer makers that are taking advantage of the larger producers malaise. A quick search on WNY breweries brings up 28 craft beer producers; most of them started in the past 15 years. Here in the Southern Tier, beer lovers are enjoying brews from Ellicottville Brewing Company, Southern Tier Brewery in Lakewood, and Four Mile Brewing in Olean among several more. All of these craft brewers take advantage of brewing equipment able to produce a variety of specialty beers using local ingredients. Each of these offers a choice of Stouts, Lagers, and Ales. Common to all craft brewers is India Pale Ale (IPA), a golden, hoppy, brew with a slightly bitter aftertaste that was all but ignored by the mass brewers. Consumers tired of the bland, corporate quaffs from the majors have bellied-up to these brews, making them the fastest growing segment of the industry.
It’s the variety of brews available at craft producers that sets the market apart. EBC offers their popular Blueberry Wheat Ale, and a host of seasonal recipes like Fall Festival Lager, Just Peachy Fruit Ale, and Imperial Stout Chocolate Cherry Bomb. Four-Mile offers a cream ale called Four Mile Pre-Prohibition, a Mango Wheat, and a Russian Imperial Stout. While Southern Tier puts out Salted Caramel Stout, Raspberry White Ale, and a Cold Press Coffee Pumking. This list is by no means comprehensive.
All three of these breweries have been expanding their business along with the explosion of the market. Four Mile is the process of expanding both production and distribution, and recently installed a new 30 barrel fermenter (a barrel is about 31 gallons).
Southern Tier Brewery is one of the largest craft beer producers in the country. Nate Arnone at Southern Tier says their business has expanded “significantly” in the past several years. Production capacity has reached 110,000 bottles per year. They recently expanded by opening their first satellite brewpub in Pittsburgh. He credits the company’s growth with the rise of the craft beer culture. “There’s a lot of good beer being brewed out there.”
Ellicottville Brewing Company has locations in Ellicottville, Bemus Point, Fredonia and come this Spring, Little Valley, NY. Peter Kreinheder at EBC believes in taking a slower approach to growth. “Slow and steady. We plan to grow from 12 (thousand barrels) to 15 this year. What we are doing is creating a brand.” He’s acutely aware of the fickle consumer tastes that have led to the craft beer movement and adds there is no loyal base of customers. “It doesn’t exist in craft beer anymore. What’s hard is there are so many different options for customers, and that affects loyalty.” Now, they are in the process of building a brewing and bottling facility in Little Valley. With the bulk of production shifted to Little Valley the Ellicottville location will become “a lager house, and do more interesting high-end beers.”