Can they keep gaining on the industry giants?

Executive Summary

The beer industry has become an arena for a battle between independent craft brewers and industry giant Anheuser-Busch InBev. Craft beers continue to gain market share, following on the success of Anchor Brewing Co., Boston Beer Co. and Sierra Nevada Brewing Co., although there are signs that the market is becoming saturated. The sales of mass-produced beers such as Budweiser and Bud Light have been declining. Anheuser-Busch has fought back by purchasing a number of craft breweries in an effort to attract younger, more adventuresome beer lovers.

Among the key takeaways:

  • The craft beer industry might be headed for a shakeout: Growth that had been in double digits from 2004 to 2015 slowed to 8 percent last year.

  • Some craft breweries in need of help have aligned with industry giants to gain advantages that include better access to distribution channels, money for marketing and an endless source of raw materials.

  • Brewers say they are seeking to educate consumers about the difference between an independent craft beer and a faux product in order to maintain their market share.

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Resources for Further Study



Acitelli, Tom, “The Audacity of Hops: The History of America’s Craft Beer Revolution,” Chicago Review Press, May 2013. A food and drink writer tells the story of the American craft beer movement from the movement’s earliest days, as well as the history of home brewing since Prohibition.

Colburn, Mark, “Craft Beer Marketing & Distribution - Brace for Skumeggedon,” Shinerunner Publishing, September 2015.A marketing executive presents case histories on how to develop strategy and objectives for selling craft beer, as well as tips on how to work with U.S. wholesalers and their sales teams.

Hindy, Steve, “The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink,” St. Martin’s Griffin, May 2015. A co-founder of Brooklyn Brewery tells the inside story of how a band of home brewers and microbrewers came together in one of America’s singular entrepreneurial triumphs.


Buckley, Thomas, “World’s largest brewer says craft beer market slowing down,” Chicago Tribune, Oct. 28, 2016, The craft beer industry is laying off workers as sales drop off in the face of increasing competition.

Furnari, Chris, “Inside A-B InBev’s Acquisition of Elysian Brewing,” BrewBound, Jan. 27, 2015, A reporter gives an inside look at Anheuser-Busch InBev’s acquisition of a Seattle brewery.

Task, Aaron, “How One Man and One Beer Disrupted an Entire Industry,” Fortune, Oct. 3, 2016, Jim Koch, founder of Boston Beer Co. and the brewer of Samuel Adams lager, reflects on his personal journey.

Tuttle, Brad, “Big Beer’s 5-Point Plan to Crush the Craft Beer Revolution,” CNN Money, Oct. 16, 2015, A reporter outlines five ways the Anheuser-Busch InBev-SABMiller merger may crush craft beer.

Reports and Studies

“Brewers Association Beer Style Guidelines,” 2016 Edition, Brewers Association, The association provides a specific description of each beer style, including alcohol by weight and bitterness.

The Next Step


Gorski, Eric, “Colorado breweries expand beyond tastings to engage with consumers,” The Denver Post, Feb. 24, 2017, Some Colorado craft breweries are showcasing their beers at local festivals and outdoor events to increase their appeal and connect with consumers in a highly saturated market.

Higdon, Mike, “New Nevada beer app helps people keep up with growing beer scene,” Reno-Gazette-Journal, March 3, 2017, The Nevada Brewers Association created an app that will recommend beers based on user preferences, allow users to find nearby breweries, build a beer wish list and receive updates about local events.

McCune, Jim, “In Craft Brewing, Tapping The Power Of Women,” Innovateli, March 8, 2017, Many craft brewers are ditching male-oriented advertisements and making their packaging and branding more female-friendly in an attempt to expand their customer reach.

Legal Battles

“Lawsuit alleges Walmart’s Trouble Brewing beer line isn’t really craft,” Fox News, Feb. 14, 2017, A lawsuit by a group of Ohio residents claims Walmart’s craft beer line doesn’t meet the Brewers Association’s definition of craft beer and that the retailer’s labeling is intentionally misleading customers.

Morrill, Jim, “Charlotte breweries want to expand. But a big campaign donor is getting in the way,” The Charlotte Observer, March 4, 2017, North Carolina’s largest craft brewery is campaigning to raise the state’s 25,000-barrel cap for craft brewers. Brewers who exceed the limit must enter into contracts with wholesale distributors, which then take control of a brewery’s sales, distribution and deliveries.

Quirk, Mary Beth, “Kona Brewing Accused Of Misleading People Looking For Hawaiian Beer,” Consumerist, March 3, 2017, A lawsuit alleges that the brewing company is misleading consumers by using language on its products that would suggest the beer was made in Hawaii, despite being produced in states on the mainland.


Anheuser-Busch InBev
250 Park Ave., New York, NY 10177
The world’s largest beer company.

Boston Beer Co.
30 Germania St., Boston, MA 02130
The craft brewer that made the first American beer to be sold in Germany.

Brewers Association
1327 Spruce St., Boulder, CO 80302
An organization of brewers aimed at promoting and protecting American craft brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.

San Diego Brewers Guild
PO Box 180696, Coronado, CA 92178
An organization promoting local breweries. Most states and many cities have a brewer’s guild. A directory can be found at

21st Amendment Brewery
563 2nd St., San Francisco CA 94107
A brewery known for its whimsical beer cans and innovative beers.

DOI: 10.1177/237455680309.n1