Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Yuengling is bigger than Samuel Adams?

It’s that time of the year again, when the Brewers Association releases their list of the Top 50 Biggest Craft Breweries and Top 50 Overall Breweries.

Normally, these lists don’t surprise me. It’s always interesting to see who’s in the Top 10 and Top 20 and how certain breweries I like rank. What is interesting this year is the new #1 craft brewery: Yuengling. For whatever reason, in 2014 the Brewers Association decided to drop the proverbial scarlet letter of “macro” from this company and seat them at the cool kids’ table (they were always exiled for their use of adjunct in their lager – much too macro-ish for the BA’s tastes, apparently). I’ve tried most of Yuengling’s products and they’re usually anywhere from “meh” to “okay,” so I’m not sure I consider them to be a true craft brewery.

Anyway, now that Yuengling is a legitimate craft brewery, they’ve vaulted to the top of the list. I’m not sure how this makes sense considering their beer is only available on the East Coast whereas the Samuel Adams brands are available in all 50 states, as well as in several foreign countries. How could Yuengling be putting out more product given these circumstances?

Though I’m not much of a Samuel Adams fan in general, I will say I prefer their wares to that of Yuengling’s and I’ll bet the vast majority of craft beer enthusiasts feel the same way. Heck, even the average fizzy yellow drinker is much more likely to stick with what they know and buy a Bud, Miller or Coors brand beer than Yuengling. So who and where are all these people buying all this Yuengling?

But I digress. Now on to some other reactions:
  • No New York-based craft breweries cracked the Top 10 Craft list, though Brooklyn comes in at #11 (#17 overall) and Ommegang (under the “Duvel Moortgat” umbrella) comes in at #12 (#18 overall). NOTE: This also raises the question of whether Ommegang and Boulevard can truly be considered “craft” since they are wholly-owned by a foreign conglomerate. I guess since their owner isn’t making adjunct lager it’s okay?
  • New York State’s own North American Breweries, better known as Genesee, rank sixth overall (but that’s counting all the brands in their portfolio, including Magic Hat).
  • Matt Brewing, better know as “Saranac,” came in at #14 on the craft chart. This is ironic since they actually contract brew the majority of Brooklyn’s products and have been for years. Clearly, the metrics are by distinct brands and not volume of output by individual breweries.
  • Southern Tier Brewing Company – the best brewery in New York State in my opinion – comes in at #35. I am a little surprised they weren’t higher up, but they’ve been steadily climbing the charts the last few years. They’ll be in the Top 20 within five years I’m sure.
  • The Capital District’s own Brown’s Brewing Company and Shmaltz Brewing Company did not, unfortunately, make either list.
  • Pabst is considered the third largest brewing company in the United States despite the fact they do not actually own a single brewery. All of their beer is contract-brewed by Miller.
  • The Brewers Association does not consider the Craft Brew Alliance (the Kona, Omission,
    Red Hook, and Widmer Brothers brands) to be craft beer because Anheuser-Busch/InBev owns 32% of the company. Yet they consider Founders to be craft beer even though a foreign macro brewery owns 30% of the company now. I guess 31% ownership is the dividing line?

What are your reactions to this year’s lists?

NOTE: If the text below is too small to read, you can download a PDF here.

top50 craftTop 50 overall


  1. I'm tasted some craft breweries stuff that goes from eeww to yuck. I've tasted good macros and some bad micros. So I don't think quality or taste is necessarily craft beer qualifier. I thought Yuengling was already ahead of Boston Beer. The way craft beer is growing maybe there should a third sort of middle ground category

  2. Attempting to define a brewery as "craft" (or not) based on their ownership is silly and leads to some fairly absurd distinctions (such as the Founders vs. Craft Brew Alliance example pointed out above).

    Imagine this, for instance: Years from now, August Busch the Seventh gets tired of watching the (former) family business managed by some corporate pencil pushers in Brussels. He wants to get back to his family roots in brewing and decides to invest his own money - not the $ of Anheuser-BuschInBev, but rather the $ he inherited as a scion of the Busch family - in, say, Schlafly (I chose them because of the St Louis connection). At first, he owns 10% of the company. Nothing about the beer changes. He ups his investment to 20%. Nothing about the beer changes. He increases his share of the company to 33% of the company. Nothing changes. He buys up 51% of the company, yet nothing about the beer changes. Meanwhile, Schlafly has grown to be a Top 20 producer, distributing its beers in all 50 states and watching double-digit growth for years. Nothing about their beer changes. They decide to go public; they raise a lot of $ in their IPO and expand even more, cracking the Top 15 in a year or two. Still, nothing about their beer has changed. Augie the Seventh realizes that his 51% share of the company is now worth a LOT of money, so he sells it. . . to A-BInBev, where all his cousins still work. The guys in Brussels are happy with the purchase, and inasmuch as Schlafly has been growing for years, they take a hands-off approach when it comes to their business decisions, even though they own a majority stake in the company. As a result, nothing about the beer changes.

    At what point in the above scenario did Schlafly no longer become a "craft" brewery?

    1. If you're going to argue hypotheticals then nothing is off the table. The only limit is that of your imagination.