(Lewiston, ME) – Some may or may not know that 20-year old New Belgium Brewing is the fastest-growing U.S. craft brewery in the post-prohibition era, having set multiple records. A lot of those records hang in the balance though thanks to successful young breweries starting up at a time when craft beer is booming.
In its first 18 months of business through the end of 1992, New Belgium produced 6,404 barrels* of beer. Though the exact amount of beer that New Belgium produced in its first twelve months is unknown, one could estimate it at around 4,000 barrels based on the above figure.
Maine-based Baxter Brewing will break that record at the end of this year.
Launched only in January of this year (2011), Baxter Brewing has catapulted onto the Maine Beer scene; selling nearly 5,000 barrels of beer in its first year of business.
Baxter has taken a simple approach relative to most craft brewers, offering only a Pale Ale and IPA in cans for its first several months in existence. Baxter only recently launched a third beer and expanded distribution into a second state. President, Luke Livingston, notes in an email:
Our capacity for 2012, if we don’t expand again, would be just shy of 11,000 bbls. We fully expect to hit our original 5,000 bbl year-one goals by the end of this year.
Even Baxter may not hold that record for long.
Over on the West Coast, Los Angeles’ Golden Road Brewing‘s Tony Yanow says that the recently-opened brewery plans to brew 1,000 barrels in its first few months. For 2012, he’s set his sights extremely high.
Our goal for the 2012 is to brew 10,000 barrels, which is a very lofty goal. It’s almost boastful to have a goal like that in the first year, but I think we have a lot of people in this city, within an hour’s drive of the brewery. I have a fairly unique perspective on what people like to drink in L.A. because I have a tap on what people are drinking every day in the two pubs. The total capacity of Golden Road Brewing is 60,000 barrels annually, which is enormous.
Golden Road is taking a similar approach to Baxter with the launch of Point the Way IPA and Golden Road Hefeweizen to come in cans. For now, the brewery is managing what has been a huge draft-only launch in the local market. Coming soon is a smoked IPA called Burning Bush and a 40-tap brewpub.
But is it possible for these breweries sustain that growth?
Yes, just ask Ninkasi Brewing.
Ninkasi is tracking New Belgium’s growth rate all the way into year six. New Belgium produced 55,000 barrels in 1996.
Fifteen years later, Ninkasi is on pace to match it.
With Ninkasi producing 30k barrels last year, that is a increase of 83%. No regional brewery (a brewery producing at least 15,000 barrels annually but less than six million barrels) topped year-over-year growth of 75% in 2010 according to The Brewers Association (New Brewer May/June 2011) so Ninkasi appears to be the favorite to once again take the “title” of fastest-growing regional brewery in 2011.
Ninkasi begans operations in June of 2006, focusing only on kegs until early 2008. At that time, the brewery launched a line of 22 oz. bombers. Those bombers were later offered in mixed 4-packs. It wasn’t until early 2011 that the brewery put out its first 6-pack of 12 oz. bottles.
Beyond that methodical progression in packaging, the brewery has also maintained a small distribution footprint that is much smaller than most regional breweries: Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Alaska, and San Francisco.
Across the pond, BrewDog (a past BN sponsor), is growing at a rate rivaling some of the top young U.S. breweries.
BrewDog opened in April of 2007 and brewed nearly 12,500 barrels in 2010. Production will reach just shy of 25,000 barrels this year according to Managing Director, James Watt.
The addition of a contract arrangement with London’s Meantime Brewery has helped lift production just above brewery capacity in 2011 but BrewDog’s planned facility, slated for late 2012, will be a gamechanger. Initial capacity will be 85,000 barrels, expandable up to 425,000 barrels.
The brewery that made the penguin beer, the squirrel beer and the deer beer will someday be in that same class of large regional brands that currently features the likes of Shiner, Saranac and Magic Hat.
And if the boom has shown us anything, it is that these breweries may grow even faster than we think possible.
*Note: data pulled from old copy of Modern Brewery Age