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Sunday, May 19, 2013

Brewery Growth Since 2009 Needs an Explanation

You look at the Portland beer market and you wonder. There's plenty of crap beer being consumed out there. You know it. PBR is popular, and not just with hipsters. I see lots of people drinking Miller High Life, Hamm's, Rainier, Bud Light and Coors Light.

And then you have craft beer. And all those breweries. Beervana, as it were.

According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, there were 51 breweries operating in Portland at the end of 2012. Add another 17 for a total of 68 in the greater metro area. I'm quite sure we've wedged a few more into the mix since the end of the year, but never mind. These are serious numbers as is.

I've been toying with the question of why we have so many breweries as part of the book project I've alluded to. Yes, we have more breweries than any city in the world. Yes, we consume a ton of draft beer. Yes, we have a lot of pubs. Yes, the shitty climate contributes to the strong pub culture. Indeed, there are probably a number of reasons for the popularity of good beer here.

But the brewery numbers are a bit deceptive. Our path to 51 breweries has not been at all gradual. More than 40 percent of the breweries we have (22 of 51) have launched since 2009. In that year, we started with just 29. After adding only two in 2009, growth went berserk: Seven in 2010; five in 2011; eight in 2012. I hesitate to guess where the number will be at the end of 2013.

The question is this: What is so special about the years since 2009? Things were relatively stable prior to that time. Since then, we've been in the midst of a severe economic downturn that has caused all kinds of displacement here and everywhere. Yet brewery growth has gone crazy. How can we possibly explain it? I'm tossing that out there. Chime in with your thoughts.


  1. I don't know, but it is a national phenomenon. That doesn't really add much to the solution, but it's all I got.

  2. I believe part of the answer is demographics. I suspect when you look at demographics in cities with crazy brewery growth over the last few years, you'll find a heavy concentration of Millennials...and very likely growth in that demographic (partially via immigration) during those years. There are 80 million in this demo and they evidently account for nearly half of new craft beer drinkers. This model definitely fits Portland. However, even if true, it isn't the only answer...just one of potentially many.

  3. I often wonder if it's because of the economic downturn. I know a good number of people that lost their jobs when the economy took a dive. Many wondered if they should go back to school, or start their own ventures. Could that have been what happened? Goodbye corporate job you probably never would have left until you were forced to - hello new business venture you always wanted to start but never thought could!

  4. I think the economy absolutely played a role. People who had brewing experience decided beer could be a way to make money...and a lot of them have done well.

  5. Pete D.,
    Based on a sample set of two [Portland and Boulder County], you may, if you wish, broaden your view. The relevant numbers for the Boulder, Colorado, area parallel those you are reporting. Btw, de-weight weather as a factor; the weather here is very, very different. Brilliant [lo, relentless] sunshine most all the time in a semi-arid clime.

    Boulder County has half the population of Portland and the number of craft breweries and brewpubs is about half.

    The growth in breweries/brewpubs in 2010 through 2012 is nearly equal 36.4% v. 40.4%.

    Why the recent growth? Don't know, but
    - most of the recent breweries were opened in warehouse space in an industrial park by a 30-40something homebrewer wanting/forced out of corporate America's global economy'
    - the City of Boulder and surrounding city governments are entrepreneur friendly; ie, the City of Boulder allows garage based breweries; two existed until 01 June 2013 when one converted to a strip mall brewpub
    - 'demographics is destiny': local young adults appreciate quality food and quality beer. My wife and I were at the newest brewpub for happy hour + dinner last night; we were the eldest by ~2X

    _RE Boulder County__
    The US Census Bureau estimates the 2012 population of Boulder County, Colo., as 305,318; Portland, 603,106. Call it half.

    You report 'According to the Oregon Brewers Guild, there were 51 breweries operating in Portland at the end of 2012'. At the end of 2012, Boulder County had 22 craft breweries and brewpubs; not half; call it 07/16th.

    You report 'More than 40 percent of the breweries we have (22 of 51) have launched since 2009'. For BoCo 36.4 percent [08/22] of the breweries/brewpubs have launched since 2009.

    Since the begin of 2013, 03 breweries / brewpubs have been added [total 25]. By years end, there will be another 08 [total 33].

    Further, there are plus 03 brewery-affiliated restaurant + taphouses; I don't know if you/OBG count these.


Keep it civil, please.