Hop-Ed: The Top U.S. Breweries of 2015

Photo by Danielle Griscti (Flickr).
Written by Alex Wilking

By Alex Wilking
BU News Service

Last Tuesday, the Brewers Association (BA) released its results for the top 50 breweries of 2015, based on sales volume. The results were assuring.

Mostly because of the boom in American craft breweries over the past few years. Whereas this list once represented a few brewing giants, deemed “craft” breweries are now climbing the ranks. Two lists were provided by the BA — one documenting the top 50 U.S. craft breweries (below), and the other highlighting the top 50 U.S. breweries in general.

Photo provided by the Brewers Association.

Photo provided by the Brewers Association.

For the BA to consider a brewery “craft” for this list, breweries must meet three guidelines — produce 6 million barrels of beer or less annually, be 75 percent owned or controlled by a craft brewer, and produce at least 50 percent of its beer with “traditional or innovative” ingredients. That being said, I’m surprised Yuengling and Boston Beer Co. (Sam Adams) even qualify, but so it goes.

Beyond that, the craft category holds some interesting changes. As Draft Magazine points out, Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits’ leapt from the 31st position to 11th. Oskar Blues Brewery jumped from 24th to 14th place, and Chicago’s Revolution Brewing Co. made the list for the first time this year, coming in at 50. Boston rep’d its beer scene too —Sam Adams and Harpoon Brewing came in 2nd and 19th, respectively.

A few notable brewing operations didn’t make the cut. I’m stunned that Avery Brewing and Evil Twin Brewing didn’t breach the top 50; I’d have to think they’re not far off, though.

The general brewery category didn’t yield many surprises at the top — Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors lead the list, like they usually do, with Pabst Blue Ribbon and Sam Adams tailing behind. But it’s worth noting some of the craft breweries on the come-up: New Belgium made 8th. Deschutes Brewery made 13th. Stone made 15th. Dogfish Head made 23rd. Allagash made 50th. With so many notable craft breweries placing so high this year, it’s tough not to feel optimistic about quality beer entering the limelight.

But what’s most worth noting from these numbers is who won’t be on the list next year. Ballast Point won’t qualify next time around due to a buy-out by Constellation Brands, Inc. earlier last year. Lagunitas Brewing sold 50 percent of their stake to Heineken late in September, so they’ll be out next year too. AB-InBev also bought out the majority stake in Breckenridge Brewery and Four Peaks Brewing Co., both of which made the late-40s on the list in 2015 – both are now ineligible by the BA’s standards.

Regardless, we should still remain hopeful — 43 of the top 50 U.S. breweries last year were craft.

“The top U.S. brewers continue to drive demand, growth, innovation and exponential interest in beers from small and independent brewers,” Bart Watson, chief economist of BA said on the organization’s release. “With a historic record number of breweries in the U.S., the top brewers continue to open new markets and expose beer drinkers to a variety of fuller-flavored styles and offerings.”

We as a nation should be (mostly) proud — we’ve come a long way in our beer appreciation over the past 20 years. Just this February, The Federalist reported that the U.S hit 4,131 active breweries this year, surpassing the highest number since 1873.

Good beer is only on the rise in this nation. I won’t hide the fact that I’m in favor of this shift, and it’s unclear how much these companies even care about the results. But it’s nice to see it all these numbers organized and ranked to recognize these brewers for their accomplishments. And while a few places have sold a majority of their stake to larger corporations, that shouldn’t deter from the consumer’s clear interest in excellent beer.

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