The 15 most popular ‘craft’ beer brands in the US
Consumer data analytics firm Nielsen recently released figures on the total sales of beer in the US based on a variety of factors, from brands, to parent companies, right down to styles.
While some figures show that the craft beer boom is starting to ebb in America, the category is still growing.
Mid-year figures from the Brewers Association, the trade group for independent brewers, shows that American craft beer production volumes increased 5% in the first half of 2017.
That’s slightly less than 2016’s mid-year increase of 8% and notably lower than the 16% mid-year production increase of 2015.
Nielsen’s data sheds a unique light on the US’ “craft” landscape, posing more than a few questions about how the category should be defined. The vast majority of the country’s most popular craft beers are either produced by large-scale firms like Molson Coors and Heineken, or by independent brewers which those companies have invested in and acquired, boosting their market penetration.
Brewers, marketers and drinkers all disagree on what “craft” should mean. The Brewer’s Association, the US equivalent of the Society of Independent Brewers, has one of the stricter definitions in the industry.
American craft brewers are “small, independent and traditional”: “small” is defined as an “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less”; “independent” is defined as at least 75% owned or controlled by a craft brewer; and “traditional” is defined as brewing in which at least 50% of the beer’s volume consists of “traditional or innovative” ingredients.
However, those on the other side of the category are more lenient. Keith Villa, the Molson Coors executive who masterminded the firm’s wheat beer Blue Moon, told the drinks business back in May that craft beer bared a similarity to pornography: “You know it when you see it.”
We’ve listed the US’ most-sold craft-styled beers according to Nielsen.
Sales of Stone Brewing Company’s beers topped $15 million in the 12 months ending in November 2017, a 2.3% rise since 2016.
Founders saw 59.7% growth over 2017, with sales of over $18 million
Bell’s earned 25.9% growth in the same year, with Americans spending $18.9 million on the brewer’s beers.
12. New Glarus brewing Co.
Wisconsin-based New Glarus also grew in 2017, albeit at a more modest level of 7.9%, with a value of $19.8 million.
11. Elsysian Brewing Company
Elysian, meanwhile, sold $24.1 million worth of pale ales and IPAs last year, a boost of 80.9% compared with 2016.
Sweetwater Brewing Company, founded by Freddy Bensch and Kevin McNerny in Atlanta, Georgia in 1997, witnessed 17% growth over the same period, with sales totalling $25.5 million.
9. Goose Island
Goose Island’s sales grew 6.4% in 2017, giving the AB InBev-owned brand a value of $28.1 million.
8. Shock Top
Shock Top, also owned by AB InBev, hasn’t performed as well as the others in this list, with sales falling 12.9%. Nonetheless, Americans bought more than $30.4 million of the brand’s products over the 12 month period.
Wisconsin-based Leinenkugel’s, which comes under the Molson Coors portfolio, also saw a sales dip of 5.4%, but still ranks in the top 10, with a value of $37.8 million in 2017.
Americans bought $39.8 million of Shiner beers in 2017, down just over 3% on the previous year.
5. New Belgium
New Belgium’s sales stayed fairly steady between 2016 and 2017, with a modest rise of 1.3%. Sales were valued at $44.6 million according to Nielsen.
Lagunitas has held a controversial place in the beer world since it was acquired by Heineken in 2016. Nonetheless it still retains a position as one of the top 5 craft beers in the US. Americans bought $58.7 million Lagunitas beers in 2017, a rise of 12.1%.
3. Sierra Nevada
Sierra Nevada sales were also steady compared to the rest of our list, with a slight decline of 0.4%. The brewer made $64.4 million last year.
2. Samuel Adams
Known for its lager, Samuel Adams is the second most-popular beer in the US, despite sales falling by 11.1% to $71.4 million in 2017. The brand holds a 6.7% share of the overall craft beer market stateside.
1. Blue Moon
Perhaps unsurprisingky, the most-valuable craft beer in the US is also one of the most controversial — Blue Moon — which was created by Molson Coors’ executive Keith Villa in 1994. Americans bought more than $118.2 million worth of Blue Moon wheat beers last year, and with a market share of 11%, the brand is still growing.