The Brewers Association has just released this year's numbers on U.S. beer sales. If you prefer Manifesto Eagle Rock Wit to Blue Moon (which is owned by MillerCoors), the news is good. Beer sales slowed overall, slipping 1.3% by volume. Within the craft beer industry, however, numbers continued to rise, with a 13% increase by volume (almost 11.5 million barrels) and 15% increase in dollars (compared with 12% and 15%, respectively, in 2010). Thanks to 1,940 breweries in operation last year, including brewpubs, microbreweries and regional craft breweries, the number of small beer producers is the highest it's been since 1880.

Why is this small but steady increase important? In the last few years, big beer advertising has shifted (slightly) less toward bikinis and beaches, and more in the direction of “top-shelf taste,” “triple-filtered” and “triple-hopped.” This is an industry acknowledgment that the average beer consumer now is looking for a brew offering quality in flavor and not just a fermented corn juice buzz or barbecue accessory. A continuously growing craft beer market means more stability for your favorite local brewer, and additional brewery openings.

Second Biggest California Craft Beer Producer; Credit: Erika Bolden

Second Biggest California Craft Beer Producer; Credit: Erika Bolden

Of the 50 top beer producers in the country, 36 are craft breweries. “In the last 15 years, craft brewing has gone from one percent of the overall beer market to almost six percent in 2011,” said Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association.

While none of the top producing breweries are native to L.A. County, BJ's Chicago Pizza and Brewery in Huntington Beach made the list.

California Brewing Companies in the Top 50, by 2011 sales volume:

2. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (Chico, CA)

9. Lagunitas Brewing Co. (Petaluma, CA)

11. Stone Brewing Co. (Escondido, CA)

22. Anchor Brewing Co. (San Francisco, CA)

23. Firestone Walker Brewing Co. (Paso Robles, CA)

33. BJ's Chicago Pizza and Brewery (Huntington Beach, CA)

35. Bear Republic Brewing Co. (Cloverdale, CA)

36. Lost Coast Brewery and Cafe (Eureka, CA)

38. North Coast Brewing Co. (Fort Bragg, CA)

40. Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. (San Jose, CA)

44. Karl Strauss Brewing Co. (San Diego, CA)

50. Anderson Valley Brewing Co. (Boonville, CA)

Complete List Here

The top five brewing companies (who now own some of the craft breweries you might have expected to see on the previous list) went to:

1. Anheuser-Busch Inc.

2. MillerCoors

3. Pabst Brewing Co.

4. D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc.

5. Boston Beer Co.

What makes a brewery “craft”? Accoding to the Brewers Association: “small (annual production of beer less than 6 million barrels), independent (less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled … by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer) and traditional (a brewer who has either an all malt flagship … or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts.”

Good to know.

LA Weekly