The Brewers Association released preliminary annual figures today, showing growth of 11.7% by volume for the craft beer category in 2006. That's a real growth of 1.5 millon 31-gallon barrels in the three years since 2003. The total sales of craft beer in 2006 was $4.2 billion.
What's that mean? Well, I'd really like to take a look at the full set of figures that will come out in April (and that I'm supposed to get in about a week so I can write an article about all this for New Brewer magazine), but I suspect that what I'm going to see is growth across the category, with the only declines coming in damaged companies. We are well into the Second Breath of Craft Brewing, and so long as the economy holds up, I can't see things falling apart. Brewers are doing the right things: innovating, creating new beers, opening new markets, reaching new customers, and perhaps most importantly, growing with an eye on financial realism.
This may well be the Golden Age of American brewing. Are you concerned about the big brewers trying to take it over or throttle it? Don't be. As Stan puts it so plainly: we own the niche. "It belongs to us, not the brewers. Not even the ones we really like." Right you are, sir.