While in San Francisco for the American Craft Brewers Conference, I wrote about my awe at the size of both the event and the American craft brewing industry, remarking at the time how much farther we need to go in Canada. Well, I have been chewing that over since my return back home, and I have re-considered that impression.
Craft brewing in the U.S. is big. No question. They have craft brewers who make hundreds of millions of litres of beer a year. In cities like Portland, craft beer makes up a whopping 30% of the market. In 2011 there are almost 2000 craft brewers, with an estimated 250 new start ups each year. That is plenty big. No wonder I felt so small when I first got to San Francisco.
Our breweries are far smaller than U.S. breweries, and nowhere outside of Whitehorse do craft breweries dominate the market. In a way this isn’t surprising – the US has 10 times the population. However, I learned a few things that temper the aw. First, a handful of really big breweries like Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Boston Beer Company and such, skew the averages a bit. The biggest portion of of craft operations in the U.S. are brewpubs – 60% of all craft brewers. There are a lot of small breweries across the 50 states. And, not all U.S. states are equally developed. For every Washington or California, there is a Mississippi or Texas.
That line of inquiry got me thinking about the situation from a different angle. So I went away and did some math. While the volume and reach of craft brewing in the U.S. clearly dwarfs us up in Canada, in some ways we are doing pretty damned well.
For example did you know that Canada has more craft brewers per capita than the U.S.? We do. We have 11% of the population of our southern neighbours. They have 1759 craft brewers. By my count Canada has 275 (and I might be missing a few). We average a brewery for every 124,648 citizens. The States has one for every 176,846 people. I put it in a chart for you to make the picture clearer. A smaller bar is better in this case.
Intrigued, I probed a bit further. I found a document that ranked U.S. States by their breweries per capita. Surprisingly Vermont and Montana come out on top, with Mississippi and Louisiana pulling up the rear. I was taken aback to see California only ranks 21st, and New York is a lowly 39th.
I ran the numbers for Canada’s provinces and inserted them into the U.S. list. And promptly had to pick my jaw back off the ground. Per capita, Yukon (one for every 34,306 residents) would place SECOND overall, behind only Vermont. B.C. wold place 10th, Nova Scotia 11th and Quebec 16th. Alberta, with its relatively weak beer culture, would be 44th, and Manitoba ranks last in Canada at 55th. Saskatchewan was a tough case because they have more than a dozen pseudo-brewpubs and I wasn’t sure whether to include them or not. If I do, Saskatchewan is 5th. If I don’t they are 30th.
Now I don’t want to take this game of statistical twister too far. I realize that breweries only producing 5,000 to 10,000 hectolitres (a hectolitre is 100 litres) a year, no matter how many you have, don’t have the same impact as one brewery that takes a measurable chunk of market share. In San Francisco, Anchor Steam was everywhere, and other California breweries popped up in the smallest of stores and restaurants. That kind of market penetration doesn’t happen much in Canada. So there still is reason to be impressed by what the American craft beer scene has achieved.
But I think I was too fast to bemoan our fate in Canada. We may not have the market penetration of the U.S., but we hold our own both in terms of quality and diversity. Alberta has as many breweries as Tennessee and South Carolina. Only Colorado, Oregon, Washington and California have more breweries than Quebec. And can anyone in the U.S. claim, as Yukon Brewing can, that in their hometown they sell more draught beer than the big boys COMBINED?
Statistics only tell us so much. But for me running a few numbers helped me develop a fuller perspective. We might be a small pond up here in Canada, but we have an impressive array of good-looking fish. So who cares if they are smaller than the fish in the lake next door? It doesn’t make them any less attractive. Keep on brewing, Canadians!