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Top 10 biggest US craft brewers

The Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade group that collates production statistics for the US brewing industry, has released details of the top craft breweries in the US.

Craft beerThe association describes an American craft brewer as “small, independent and traditional”.

Small means that the brewer has an annual production of six million barrels of beer or less, “flavoured malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition”.

Independent means that “less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer”. And traditional relates to “a brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour.”

The association claims that there are more than 2,000 breweries in the US and 97% of these are “small and independent”, adding that “on average, most Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery, and hundreds of thousands of people have toured or tasted at their local brewery.”

It added: “Nielsen research confirmed that beer drinkers are shifting to more robust beer styles and we know from Information Resources that seasonal beer is one of the top selling craft beer categories.”

Speaking about these results Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association, said: “In 2012, craft surpassed 6% of the total US beer market, with volume and dollar sales reaching record levels. Increasingly, beer lovers are turning to craft brewed beer from small and independent producers to satisfy their thirst for bold, innovative and flavour-forward beers.”

Click through the following pages to find the top 10 US craft brewers, based on 2012 beer sales volume.

10 – Stone Brewing Company

Stone Brewing Company

The Stone Brewing Company was founded in 1996 by Greg Koch and Steve Wagner in San Marcos, California. In 2008 and 2009 Stone was named the “All-time top brewery on planet Earth” by the Beer Advocate magazine and its beer is currently distributed to 37 US states as well as to the UK, Sweden, Japan and Singapore.

The brewery has grown from producing 400 barrels in 1996 to 177,200 in 2012 and projects this will increase further to 210,200 barrels in 2013. In 2011 Stone was the 11th largest craft brewery in the US, but broke into the top 10 after increasing its production by 19% in 2012.

9 – Harpoon Brewery

Harpoon's Rye IPA

In 1986 college classmates Rich Doyle and Dan Kenary decided that they were fed up with not being able to find the beer that they wanted to drink in pubs in Boston. So they decided if “they couldn’t buy the beer they wanted then they would have to brew it themselves – or start a brewery and hire someone who could brew it.”

So they teamed up with George Ligetti, hired a brewer and started the Harpoon Brewery in Boston.

Now the brewery is well known for its Harpoon IPA and for producing seasonal beers for special events. Harpoon produces a pumpkin ale and a pumpkin cider as well as Celtic ale for St Patrick’s Day, Octoberfest beer and a cranberry ale for Thanksgiving.

8 – Matt Brewing Company

The Matt Brewery's pale ale (Image © Matt Brewery)

The Matt Brewing Company was founded in 1888 by German-born immigrant Francis Xavier Matt, or FX as he liked to be called. Today, under the leadership of the third and fourth generations of the Matt family, the brewery still crafts beer “to the exacting standards set forth over a century ago.”

Based at the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Central New York, Matt Brewing produces five core beers including a white IPA, pale ale and IPA. Currently its seasonal beers include a pumpkin ale, Octoberfest and caramel porter.

7 – Bell’s Brewery

Bottling at the Bell's Brewery (Image © Bell's Brewery)

In 1983 Larry Bell began homebrewing and in 1985 he sold his first beer. The following year Bell sold 135 barrels and now Bells Brewery has a capacity of more than 500,000 barrels and employs nearly 200 people. Bell’s Brewery produces eight year-round beers including an amber ale, lager beer, pale ale and a stout; as with many other craft brewers Bell’s also produces a wide range of specialist brews.

6 – Lagunitas Brewing Company

(Image © Lagunitas)

On its website the company writes: “The Lagunitas Brewing Co. was not so much an act of ordinary ‘foundling’ as it was willed into being by the unspoken desire of supportive beer-lovers in Northern California after which they continued to nurture their creation and urged us forward to fulfill the unifying needs of that same beer-loving diaspora from coast to coast and beyond.”

In 2004 Lagunitas produced 27,000 barrels and a current expansion will see that increase to 600,000 later this year. An IPA, pils and stout are part of its year-round catalogue and Lagunitas also produces a wide range of seasonal and speciality beers.

5 – Deschutes Brewery

(Image © Deschutes Brewery)

In 1988 Gary Fish established the Deschutes Brewery as a small brew pub in Bend, Oregon, and it is now the fifth largest craft brewer in the US. In its first year the brewery sold 310 barrels of beer and this had increased to 3,953 barrels by 1992. Now the company’s main brewing facility, located in Bend’s Old Mill District, produces over 250,000 barrels of beer annually.

Deschutes produces six year-round beers, plus a large selection of seasonal and special brews and is currently available in 18 US states.

4 – The Gambrinus Company

The Spoetzl Brewery's range of bottled beer (Image © Spoetzl Brewery)

Founded in 1986 the Gambrinus Company, headed by President Carlos Alvarez, is based in San Antonio, Texas and is best known as the owner and brewer of Shiner Beers, which are brewed at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.

Gambrinus also owns the BridgePort Brewery in Portland, Oregon, the Trumer Brauerei in Berkeley, California and the Pete’s Brewing Company. Gambrinus also brews Tappeto Volante in Biella, Italy.

Gambrinus started out as a small beer importer serving the south-west region of the US, before acquiring the Spoetzl Brewery in 1989. Spoetzl was founded in 1909 and is the oldest brewery in Texas. The brewery produces a range of beers, of which the Shiner Bock – a Bavarian-style beer – is the most popular.

3 – New Belgium Brewing Company

The New Belgium Brewing Company's range of beer

In 1989 Jeff Lebesch developed a love of Belgian beer while travelling through Europe and he returned home to the US “with an imagination full of recipes and a handful of ingredients ready to embark on a whole new journey”.

The New Belgium Brewing Company was founded in 1991 and it is now the third largest craft brewery in the US. In 1996 the company brought in Peter Bouckaert, a Belgian brewmaster who has previously worked at the Rodenbach Brewery in Belgium.

Located in Fort Collins, Colorado, the company’s beers are distributed to 19 US states and its best-selling beer is known as Fat Tire.

2 – Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

Beers from the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company

In 1970 Ken Grossman learned the art of home brewing beer from the father of a close friend and 10 years later he opened a small-scale brewery in Chico. The brewery’s first batch of beer was an American Stout and “in the following decades, the recipe for Sierra Nevada Stout has changed very little from that day.”

Grossman also created the Sierra Nevada Pale Ale in 1980 and this rapidly became a popular beer, with demand out-stripping supply at the small brewery.

After moving to a larger brewery in 1987, Sierra Nevada hit a major brewing milestone, producing 100,000-barrels in 1993. Even at that volume, demand for the bold, hop-forward pale ale continued to outpace supply.

The brewery produces five beers all year round including a pale ale, porter and a stout and also produces a range of seasonal, speciality and limited edition beers. The brewery expanded in 1997 and again in 2005 and Sierra Nevada now produces five beers all year round including the pale ale, a porter and a stout and also produces a range of seasonal, speciality and limited edition beers.

1 – Boston Beer Company

Samuel Adams Boston lager

The Boston Beer Company is a US craft beer success story as it’s Samuel Adams beer, was recently named the best perceived beer in the US.

The company was started in 1984 by Jim Koch and is now the number one craft beer in the US. While Samuel Adams is the biggest-selling craft beer in the US it accounts for just under 1% of the US beer market. On its website the company claims that the brewery “has won more awards in international beer-tasting competitions in the last five years than any other brewery in the world”.

Samuel Adams now offers over 30 different styles of craft beer and is available in all 50 US states and more than 20 foreign countries; the Boston Lager is the brewery’s most successful beer.

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