Top beer stories of 2018

After decades of building a reputation as a pretty shoddy beer-making country, the United States has snowballed the microbrew/craft beer explosion of the 1990s into a massive industry producing recipes worthy of international acclaim.

Year 2018 was reflective of the American beer industry’s successes and tends in the 21st century, showing the continuing massive growth of craft beers in the country, as well as the increasing fondness for Mexican-style brews in the USA. The following are the biggest headline-grabbers from within the USA’s beer industry.

• MillerCoors acquires three craft breweries in two weeks. Through its subsidiary Tenth and Blake, America’s second-largest beer company bought up Athens, Georgia-based Terrapin Beer Company on July 20; Oregon-based Hop Valley on July 29; and Granbury, Texas-based Revolver Brewing on August 11.

• Anheuser-Busch sees MillerCoors, raises a hard seltzer producer. MillerCoors’s main competitor and US top dog Anheuser-Busch also continued expansion into the craft brewery market. Via its business unit ZX Ventures, Anheuser-Busch purchased Virginia-based Devils Backbone; Houston-based Karbach Brewing; homebrew equipment producers/distributors Northern Brewer; and the “high-end” alcohol beverage producer SpikedSeltzer. The company’s

A couple of these might make separate items on a “top beer stories of 2018” list, but we’ll sub-categorize them here anyway. The acquisition of Devils Backbone, Virginia’s largest brewery, by the Budslingers meant that Devils Backbone co-founder was forced to resign his post on the Brewers Association board of directors; local folks protested the business deal by boycotting the beer.

And Anheuser-Busch’s acquisition of SpikedSeltzer was indicative of the alcoholic seltzer beverages’ upward trend continuing into 2018. (Ye gods, why?)

• Perich leaves New Belgium. After 15 years with New Belgium Brewing and one as CEO – essentially her entire professional career – Christine Perich handed in a surprise resignation from her post in October 2018. She soon took the CEO position at beverage manufacturers WTRMLN WTR.

• Top brass walks en masse from Ballast Point. The acquisition of Ballast Point Brewing by Constellation Brands, a giant producing the Corna and Modelo brands, in late 2015 was presented as a positive for the San Diego brewery, with no layoffs or major changes to management – until a trio from management within eight months of the new regime. In July, CEO Jim Buechler, general counsel Julie Buechler and chief commercial officer Earl Kight; the three combined took over 20 years’ worth of experience with them.

• Craft Beer Guild hit with $2.6 million fine. Massachusetts-based international beer wholesaler Craft Beer Guild set a rather undesirable record in 2018, as the company was slapped with a $2.6 million fine from the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission (MABCC) on the charge of “unfair and illegal inducements,” i.e. bribery. The whopping figure represents the highest-ever fine called for by the MABCC, and atop the record-setter, Craft Beer Guild also ponied up another $750,000 in fines to the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).

• Layoffs at Stone. Stone Brewing Company laid off more than 50 employees from its San Diego operation in October in its “restructuring” effort. Jobs were slashed across departments and were explained away as due to “recent declines in domestic growth for the category and for Stone.”

• Now open for business in US: 5,000+ breweries. Some 850 new breweries – over two *per day* – opened in the Us in 2018, representing a massive 20% increase to the rolls in a single year.

• Mexican invasion of US beer market continues apace. Mexico-based beer brands (and particularly Corona) continued their dominance of the US import beer market. At $1.7 billion, the Corona brand outdid its nearest competitors, Modelo Especial and Heineken by 46% and 128%, respectively. The remainder of the official sales figures show Mexican breweries holding eight of the top 10 spots: at no. 4 among US import sales is Dos Equis Light, followed by Stella Artois, Corona Light, Tecate, Pacifico, Modelo Especial Chelada and Tecate Light.

• Sierra Nevada holds no. 1, announces brewmaster’s retirement. Sierra Nevada held onto its no. 1 spot among craft beer sales in the US, outdoing Sam Adams Seasonal, New Belgium Fat Tire, Sam Adams Boston Lager and Shiner Bock.

The more sobering (so to speak) news was the company’s announcement of the retirement of brewmaster Steve Dressler, who left his post after 33 years with the company, including 31 as product development director. Under Dressler’s watch, Sierra Nevada beer took some eight World Beer Cup awards and 31 medals at the Great American Beer Festival – not to mention ascended to that aforementioned no. 1 spot among America’s craft beers.