Despite the recent trend for mergers and sellouts in the beer world, it's undeniable we are living in a golden age for craft beer in America. Most beer enthusiasts would say that the quality of brews has never been better than it is right now.
The selection has never been better, either. According to a new report from the Brewers Association, the quantity of breweries in America just hit an all-time high.
Way back in 1873, America hosted 4,131 breweries—nearly all of them serving as extremely small, local operations. Decades of consolidation followed, and by 1910 there were only about 1,500 breweries, according to Beer Advocate. Soon thereafter, Prohibition took hold, decimating the brewing industry further. The low point was the 1980s, when there were fewer than 100 brewing operations in the U.S.
The craft beer revival has since transformed the scene. By the mid-1990s, we were back up over 1,000 breweries, rising to 2,500 in 2013. America crossed the 4,000-brewery mark earlier this year, and as of the end of November 2015, the total stood at 4,144—at long last topping the high set nearly 150 years ago, in the Gilded Age.
The Brewers Association, which represents independent craft beer interests, also reports that there are now 15 states that are each home to more than 100 breweries, including some that have seen the craft beer market explode. At the beginning of 2012, for instance, there were 49 breweries in Ohio; now there are 130. There are about 100 craft breweries in the greater Portland, Ore., metropolitan area alone.
Despite the extraordinary brewing boom in America, the Brewers Association maintains that there is still room for growth. “There are still thousands of towns currently without a brewery—but with populations potentially large enough to support one," Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson said in a press release. "With beer lovers continuing to desire more full-flavored, innovative options from small and independent local breweries, ample opportunities exist for well-differentiated, high-quality entrants in the marketplace.”