The Craft Beer Industry Expanded During COVID – Albeit at a Decelerated Rate

In mid-May, Julia Herz, the Craft Beer Program Director at the Brewers Association, predicted that the number of craft breweries would continue to increase even with the COVID lockdowns and economic uncertainty.  A couple months later, the Brewers Association have released the first half of 2020 data and it looks like her prediction was on target. According to Bart Watson, Chief Economist at the Brewers Association in the 2020 Midyear Survey Shows Challenges for Craft Brewers (behind firewall):

As of June 30, the Brewers Association database showed 8,217 active craft breweries, up from 7,480 during a comparable time frame last year. Adding in large and other non-craft brewers brought the U.S. total to 8,341. Although considerable growth, that is a deceleration from mid-year 2019, where the number had increased by more than 1,000 during a similar time frame. 

Looking at our database, the decrease is largely attributable to a slowdown in openings, more so than a sharp increase in closings. While it remains possible that closings will accelerate as 2020 continues, through the end of June, our database only shows 112 closings. That’s only 4% higher than the number we had found during the same time period last year. In contrast, we have only counted 301 openings, a number that is about 20% lower than the opening count through the first 6 months of 2019 (found by this point last year).

Photo courtesy of the Brewers Association

Regarding openings, we are actually surprised that the drop was only 20% lower — based on the lockdowns that we had experienced over the Spring.  Yet in our interview below Ms. Herz stressed that breweries in planning actually had a hidden advantage in that they planned for an opening during a stressful economic climate. These breweries could not afford to rush their opening without proper due diligence.  And based on monthly data inferred from the New Brewer Magazine, over 60% of the 301 new openings occurred after March 1 — right before the national lockdown.

As for closures, only a 4% increase shows the resilience and flexibility of small independent craft brewers.  And according to the same monthly data, only 40% of the closures occurred after March 1 as brewers have modified business models to cope with the pandemic. Furthermore, the overall number of closures was affected by the retrenchment among larger craft brewery chains.  Gordon Biersch,  Rock Bottom, Granite City, and RAM closed a combined 18 brewpubs in the first half of 2020, representing 16% of all closures. Removing this number from the overall closures would actually show a 10% decline in the overall number of closures.

Mr. Watson alludes above that closures may accelerate in the second half of 2020,  and the statistics referenced here relies on the Brewers Association obtaining valid non-member data.  However, there is optimism that the craft beer industry will not only survive the pandemic but continue to grow. In the same article, Mr. Watson mentions the optimism expressed by smaller brewers – where they predict 12% growth in the second half. In six months we will discover the accuracy of this prediction or are smaller brewers “simply wearing rose-colored glasses”.

Michigan Wine Month and Beyond

Michigan Wineries

May is Michigan Wine Month and the Michigan Wine Collaborative has partnered with BevFluence in order to promote Michigan wines throughout the summer. The Michigan Wine Collaborative (MWC) is a non-profit organization formed “to enhance the sustainability and profitability of the Michigan wine industry by supporting wineries, growers, related businesses and individuals connected to the industry – today and for future generations”.

There are approximately 150 wineries in the Great Lakes State with the majority clustered around southwest Michigan in the Lake Michigan Shore AVA and in the northeast with the Old Mission Peninsula AVA and Leelanau Peninsula AVA. The BevFluence campaign will focus on three wineries, each representing one of these regions.

Left Foot Charley
Left Foot Charley Lineup

Left Foot Charley is a winery located in Michigan’s Traverse City region — also called the Traverse Wine Coast because of the abundance of wineries located in the nearby Leelanau Peninsula Wine Trail and the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula trail. One reason is that this northern Michigan region is situated on the 45th Parallel — lined up with the world’s most prestigious wine regions (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Piedmont, and Oregon’s Willamette Valley to name a few) where these regions experience the same angle of the sun and length of a day.

Yet, that only is a partial explanation – particular microclimates matter such as found in the Old Mission Peninsula where Lake Michigan creates a very favorable grape growing environment. The “lake effect” snow protects the vines in the winter from freezing temperatures and provides a diurnal change in temperatures during the summer. Think bright acidity.

Left Foot Charley leverages small family-owned vineyards in the Old Mission Peninsula with most of these planted with less than 2 acres of vines. This translates to abundant tender loving care. The grapes are very intriguing and include many found in Germany and Austria: Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, and Blaufränkisch – in addition to Chardonnay and Cabernet Franc.

Aurora Cellars
Aurora Cellars Lineup

Aurora Cellars is situated in the middle of the Leelanau Peninsula American Viticultural Area (AVA), which was established in 1982. The AVA is comprised of a peninsula between Lake Michigan on the west and Grand Traverse Bay on the east. The lake effect caused by these two bodies of water helps moderate the climate making it highly suitable for viticulture. These are cold-climate grapes predominately Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Franc — all vinified by Aurora Cellars in addition to the Austrian Grüner Veltliner and Blaufrankish.

12 Corners Vineyard
12 Corners Vineyard Lineup

12 Corners Vineyards is located on the shores of Lake Michigan within the Lake Michigan Shores AVA. In fact, this AVA is the oldest modern commercial grape region of the state and home to a majority of Michigan vineyards and half of the state wine grape production. That is because the region is sheltered from the harshness of winter by the “lake effect” which blankets the fruit vines with snow and providing slightly warmer temperatures. The winery is based on a 115-acre estate planted with both vinifera and hybrid grapes that includes Riesling, Cabernet Franc, Marquette, Traminette, and Gewürztraminer. Expect very affordable and clean wines whether dry or off-dry, semi-sweet or sweet.

Seven BevFluence community members will be sharing their thoughts of these wines on various platforms and social media. The campaign was kicked off by an interview with Emily Dockery on the BevFluence YouTube Channel and will continue into July with various virtual tastings and interviews. On May 25th, 6 PM ET, Nick Drinks will stream an interview with Aurora winemaker and founder Drew Perry followed by another streamed interview with 12 Corners Vineyard winemaker Glen Greiffendorf on July 11th, 6 PM ET. On May 28th, 9 PM ET Gina Shay of the MWC will appear on WineAntics Live for a lively conversation with Jenn Nelson and Stub. Moving into June, Wine With Paige will stream on Instagram Live an interview with Left Foot Charley winemaker and founder Bryan Ulbrich on June 13th, 5 PM ET and 12 Corners Vineyard winemaker Glen Greiffendorf on June 17th, 8:15 PM ET.

Furthermore, in June, on the 18th at 8 PM ET, the BevFluence team will be hosting a Twitter Wine Chat discussing the wines of Left Foot Charley. We encourage all wine lovers to participate by not only joining the chat but joining with a bottle or two of their wines. We will be providing a link for a discount on these wines shortly.

On July 2nd, 8 PM ET, the BevFluence team will be hosting a virtual tasting of Aurora Cellars’ wines where Drew Perry will be able to discuss Aurora, the Leelanau Peninsula AVA, and his wines in more detail. We once again encourage all wine lovers to participate by not only joining the chat but joining with a bottle or two of their wines. We will be providing a link for a discount on these wines shortly.

Finally, there will be multiple engagements across other media platforms which you can follow by searching for the #UnderTheBevFluence tag. Cheers to Michigan wine.

We are content creators, industry experts, and lovers of libations. If you are interested in similar campaigns or want to learn how we can help your region, state, operation, or collective please reach out!