Carving a lucrative niche
Though much of the success of craft breweries (which are technically defined as those that make less than 6 million barrels per year) and microbreweries (which make less than 15,000 barrels) can be credited to shifts in public taste, those in the industry say they've learned a few truths along the way that have aided in their success.
First, don't be afraid to think outside the box when it comes to distribution. Craft beer might be growing, but the category still holds just 7 percent of the overall beer market. To help grow that, many microbreweries have put off plans to bottle or can their beer and compete for grocery-store shelf space, focusing instead on winning over the taps of bars and restaurants.
Many brewers also take part in regional beer festivals to raise awareness of their brands. (Several of those will be held the week of May 12–18, which the Brewers Association has dubbed American Craft Beer Week.)
Meanwhile, liquor laws among states vary wildly. Some states, for instance, allow beer sales at grocery stores and convenience stores, while others do not. And any alcohol in Utah with a greater than 4.0 percent alcohol by volume, must be sold in a state-run store.
That confusion—or hassle, to use the term many brewers favor—has prompted some brewers to begin exporting their product beyond U.S. shores as an expansion method.
"It's easier for me to sell my beer overseas than it is across state lines," said Brendan Moylan, proprietor of Marin Brewing Co. and Moylan's Brewing and Restaurant, both based in California. Moylan ships his products to 25 states and seven different countries, including Chile, Brazil, Italy, England, Japan, Australia and Canada.
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Also, establish a strong local customer base before thinking of expanding. Finding a local craft-focused distributor isn't particularly challenging these days, given the growing demand for craft beer among restaurant and pub patrons. And even Budweiser's distribution arm is now including craft beers from other breweries.
Again, local beer festivals have been helpful in building interest in the beers, but many craft and microbreweries are becoming gathering spots of their own.