Like many other businesses, America's breweries are desperately trying to stay afload in the sea of economic devastation brought along by the pandemic. Shuttered restaurants and pubs have hit sales hard, taproom transactions have evaporated and the distribution of kegs has ceased. A Daily Beast article from May warned that 3,600 of America's breweries could go out of business and that coronavirus could kill craft beer. Fast forward to August and it seems reports of craft beer's demise have been greaty exaggerated.
While the Brewers Association's midyear report does indeed shows that the U.S. beer scene is facing an unprecedented challenge, it certainly does not appear to be the doomsday scenario some were expecting a few months ago. Volumes declined 10 percent during the first six months of the year compared to 2019 while the brewery count has grown by 737. That is slower than the 1,000 new breweries added by mid-year 2019 but still an impressive performance given the current situation. The Brewers Association has also said that its planning membership has slipped 14 percent in the first half of 2020 but that thousands of entrants are still hoping to establish breweries, pointing towards the current challenge being a temporary one.
This International Beer Day, entrenched brewers can surely take heart from the incredibly successful decade they just put behind them which serves as proof that it will take more than the coronavirus to kill craft beer. Historically, the U.S boased 4,144 breweries in 1873, a number that fell drastically by the middle of the 20th century. After Prohibition, the brewery count grew extremely slowly and as recently as the 1970s, the country had fewer than 100 functional breweries. 1978 was particularly poor with the count falling to just 89. Amid the craft beer explosion, such a low number is unthinkable now.
Up until the pandemic, the biggest problem thirsty revellers was the near infinite number of beers to choose from. According to the Brewers Association, the brewery count has grown spectacularly over the past 10 years. In 2006, the U.S. had 1,460 of them and by 2019, the count had skyrocketed to 8,386. As difficult as the current situation is, blockbuster growth in recent years serve as cause for optimism once the coronavirus storm is finally weathered.