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What! Can there be too many craft brewers?

on 14/01/11 at 9:02 am


In the mid-eighties, when I became addicted to caffeine, I realized there were these places you could go to get insanely strong coffee. Mostly, restaurants and coffee shops served Boyd’s or Farmers Brothers, which was brewed to the color and viscosity of weak Red Rose tea. Over the next ten years, I spent a lot of my mind-space strategizing so that the demons of my addictions wouldn’t be left to these puny distillates. Small towns were murder, as were many relatives’ homes. Then, magically, espresso stands became ubiquitous. And then they became annoying. There were too damn many of them. I recall standing on the street somewhere in Portland and realizing that all four corners were occupied by coffee shops (probably two were Starbucks). Of course, then came the shakeout.

I mention this history because a couple of days ago I stumbled across the news that we’re in the midst of the greatest boom in brewery building in–well, maybe in forever, but certainly in the last 140 years. Searching through the Brewers Association’s list of breweries, I counted 505 breweries listed as “planned.” BA currently lists 1599 craft breweries, which means this represents an increase of nearly a third (32%). And, even if a certain percentage of these fail to materialize, it almost certainly understates matters because the BA can’t possibly track all of them. My instinctive reaction: uh oh.

The numbers are a bit staggering. Fourteen states will have increased their number of breweries by 50% or more since ’08 (the last time the BA compiled state-by-state totals); five states will more than double their totals. California plans for 65 new breweries, Texas 33, Washingon and Colorado 29. Every state but one has at least one new brewery in the works (poor Delaware). Surely we’re headed for a train wreck, right?

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