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Clyde, the Budweiser horse.

As excited as we can all get about craft brew, it is humbling to realize just how small a part of the overall beer market it really is. Two reports published in the last week cast that into sharp relief.

First, a market report by beverage accountants Frank, Rimerman + Co. takes a look at the possible future of craft beer, particularly in light of the success and “premiumization” of the wine industry. The authors conclude that craft beer is at a similar tipping point to wine about 15 years ago, before the number of American wineries exploded and prices began to soar. They conclude that the beer industry could follow a similar road. It’s an optimistic report, but it also notes that craft make up just a little more than about 10 percent of the nation’s $100 billion (yes, with a B) beer market, despite explosive growth in recent years. Bud Light alone controls about 20 percent of the market, twice the entire world of craft beer in revenue and around three times in terms of volume. Together, the big two – Anheuser-Busch In Bev and MillerCoors control more than 80 percent of the beer market, 49 and 32 percent respectively.

That means craft beer has a long (long) way to go to catch up.

The other interesting report comes from stock market website Motley Fool, which takes a look at the values of major beer-related stocks, profiling AB InBev, MillerCoors, and Boston Beer Company, maker of the Sam Adams line and by far the biggest craft brewer.

The result?

Their verdict is Buy Bud, at least if you’re looking for solid and dependable, because Anhueser-Busch has a market capitalization of something like $168 million. MillerCoors, meanwhile, is a mere $10 million. Boston Beer Company is just about $3 billion. Of course, they do note that if you’re looking for growth potential, the better bet is Sam Adams, since AB Inbev is too big to grow, and MillerCoors is not far behind on the Bigness Scale. But still, that gives you some sense of just how huge Budweiser and its sister brands really are.

As I’ve pointed out before, sometimes it helps to take a step back from all the excitement and energy of craft brewing and look at the big picture. Boston Beer Company dwarfs any other craft brewing operation, making more than 2 million barrels, or 64 million gallons, every year. Number 2 craft brewer Sierra Nevada is around 1 million barrels per year and it drops like a rock from there as you go down the list. Lagunitas will make around 500,000 barrels this year, and Bear Republic will be around 67,000. Cult favorite brewery Russian River, for all the buzz it generates, makes only about 14,000 barrels per year. A solid and successful brewpub like Third Street Aleworks pumps out only around 1,400 barrels per year.

The Budweiser plant in Fairfield, meanwhile, makes something like 4 million barrels per year. That’s more than Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams combined, with room to spare for Lagunitas. And that Fairfield plant is one of the smaller facilities out of the dozen in the U.S. Anheuser-Busch makes more than 100 million barrels in the U.S., and worldwide InBev’s production is something north of 300 million barrels.

All American craft brewers combined, meanwhile, produced about 13 million barrels in 2011, according to industry group the Brewers Association.

So anytime you think craft brewing has gotten too big, remember that craft production is just a rounding error in Budweiser’s terms. A delicious rounding error, but still a tiny splash in the vast sea of beer made every year on earth.

- Sean Scully

 

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