Despite Zoom happy hours and day drinking, 2020 wasn’t a great year for craft brewers

April 6, 2021, 5:25 PM UTC

While the pandemic hasn’t proved to be as devastating to small, independent craft brewers as some initially feared, the industry still saw historical shortfalls over the past year.

New data from the Brewers Association, the trade group of the craft beer industry, shows small and independent brewers produced 23.1 million barrels of beer last year—a 9% decline from 2019. That’s the first time that volume has dropped since the rise of craft beer, and it’s the lowest level of production in more than five years.

As a result, craft beer lost some of its market share. It now makes up 12.3% of the overall beer market, compared to 13.6% the year before. In terms of hard dollars, the industry took in $22.2 billion, a 22% decline over 2019.

That decrease in production led to fewer jobs as well. Overall, the number of small-brewing jobs declined by 14%, to 138,371. The total beer market shrunk 3%.

Not all of the news is negative, though. The total number of operating craft breweries in the U.S. continued to rise. There are now 8,764 taprooms, brewpubs, and other small breweries open around the country—a net increase of 370. (During the course of the year, 716 new breweries opened and 346 closed.)

“2020 was obviously a challenging year for many small brewers, but also one that proved their resilient and entrepreneurial nature,” said Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association, in a statement. “In a year where U.S. draught sales were down more than 40%, small brewers found new ways to connect with their customers and keep their businesses running.”

Craft breweries were hit harder because a big part of their business comes from taproom and restaurant sales. Many were forced to close taprooms in March 2020, and restaurant orders dried up. Several brewers were forced to pivot to a to-go sales model. A limited number have been able to do direct shipping to customers.

That pivot seems to have sustained a large share of them, though.

“The 2020 closing rate has remained on par with 2019, suggesting that the vast majority of breweries will survive going forward,” said Watson.

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