At New York City's Brooklyn Brewery, where beer output and new hires are on the rise, there is no better example of how the appetite for craft beers pours strong, despite a flat economy.
Based in an old brick warehouse in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, just across the East River from Manhattan, the brewery cooks, ferments and sells more than 110,000 barrels of lager, ale and other craft beers every year. This includes beer the company brews at another facility upstate in Utica.
The specialty suds are sold in kegs of all sizes along with bottles and cans -- the equivalent of between 1.5 and 2 million cases was poured in 2010. The company says the production will grow far larger when an expansion project is complete.
“I think a lot of people aren’t guzzling beer the way they used to,” says owner Steve Hindy. “They’re looking for something they can savor and think about and talk about -- and that’s Brooklyn Lager, or one of our other great beers.”
The company employs 48 people and expects to double that number in the next three years. They’ve added a new wing to their Brooklyn facility that could quadruple capacity by 2014.
Hindy calls the brewery's beers “more interesting” than typical domestics, and he thinks they “give more to the customer."
"And that’s what competition is all about, right?” he said.
In fact, while beers sales fell as a whole by almost 3 percent nationally, the sale of craft beer -- which is any beer made by breweries producing less than two million barrels a year -- has gone up.
In the first half of 2010, the sales of craft beer went up 9 percent by volume and 12 percent in dollars, according to the Brewers Association, a national non-profit association representing the majority of U.S. breweries.
While craft beers are still a small percentage of total beer sales, the totals are staggering and sobering: nine million barrels, more than $7 billion in sales, helping to fuel an estimated 100,000 full- and part-time jobs coast to coast.
Julia Herz, spokeswoman for the Brewers Association, says that breweries are on the rise in U.S. neighborhoods, with more than 1,600 breweries registered and another 500 in the planning stages.
“The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery,” Herz says. “And so you can go tour, meet with, even have a beer with the local brewer from down the street.”
Hindy agrees: “Part of it is people looking for something local, looking for something authentic.”
He says he has nothing against the big brands and respects their quality and consistency and points out his company is only 1/200th the size of Anheuser-Busch, the maker of Budweiser and other beers.
“We don’t look down our nose at anyone who drinks beer,” he says. “We think that the big brewers have their place… but we think if we can get a chance at letting people have a taste of our kind of beer and the different styles we produce, then we can convert them eventually.”
Hindy admits Brooklyn Lager and other craft beers typically cost more than mass-produced brands but says that’s because his ingredients and processes cost more. He also proudly says his lager is worth the investment.