The key to a microbrewery's success is owning its local market. Tiny Microbreweries you have never heard of have survived for decades because they continually deliver a product that its nearby patrons love and love to support. Hard to grow a business with that model, although perhaps surprisingly, many breweries don't want to. The breweries that are looking to expand do it with packaged goods; think bottles and cans.
We won't go into a 'does beer taste better out of a bottle or can debate' here (I prefer pouring my beer out of a can into a pint glass), but the easiest next step for a small brewery is bottling in large format bottles such as 22 ounce bottles or 750ml wine size bottles. The reason is simple: low cost. Mobile bottling trucks can drive to the brewery hook up to the tank then bottle and label just a few hundred cases in a few hours. Low overhead for the glass, inexpensive rental of the bottling machine and the brewery now has something they can easily sell to outside markets.
Unfortunately, this is the zenith of hundreds of breweries: Kegs to local restaurants and 22 ounce bombers to local bottle shops. Then something strange happened: cans became cool again. Oskar Blues started this trend in the early 2000's and never looked back. Now every brewery looking for big growth is trying to get into cans. Cans have many advantages over bottles in the packaged good arena. Lighter, easier to stack, air tight, block out all light, more portable, easier to recycle, and more durable to name a few. This leads to the next question: why isn't everyone using cans?
Of course there are traditionalist brewmasters and owners that could argue that beer tastes different out of a can, but the #1 hindrance is cost. Luckily costs are coming down. Skipping the $40,000 investment just to own an entry level canning line, the actual cans themselves is a huge commitment. Printing on cans is expensive and a large run is needed to make the effort profitable. This means buying the cans upfront and there are big minimums. But thanks to the craft brewing boom, innovation has allowed smaller breweries with less capital to get into the game.
First off there are now a plethora of mobile canning companies. Also, just like the bottlers, some breweries sticker their cans. Sometimes so well its hard to tell. Both of these have helped smaller breweries get into the canning game that would have been impossible a few years ago. And even if all of this is too expensive for a small brewery, they have one more ace in the hole: Crowlers, but that subject can be discussed at another time.
In 2015 Craft Beer production increased nearly 13% and now commands 12.2% of US Beer Market . At this rate it will surpass the entire import market in 2019 and be the leading category for domestic production by 2025.
Yes, by 2025 mass produced beer would be looking up to the Craft Beer Industry in a market share graph!
Will it happen? Why not?
Fueling the Craft Beer movement is innovation and pushing the envelope with new beer styles. The way that microbreweries, brew pubs and small craft breweries run allows them constantly evolve in regards to consumer trends. And we are talking quick turnover here... 2 weeks to make a new batch of beer and offer it to the public.
Hops, fruits , spices, carbonation, sweeteners, alcohol percentage, bitterness, sourness, barrel ageing, yeasts - all of these can be added, eliminated, mixed around and swapped out to change a beer drastically, or just tweak it a bit.
How much do you think it would cost Budweiser to change their recipe? What would happen if they got it wrong? The big companies bank on familiarity and consistency. Today's beer drinkers want freshness, they want to try what is trending, and they want to support locally.
Yes, the Craft Beer Bubble is growing, but it doesn't have to burst.