Another year of craft beer is in the books, and here in Massachusetts it was a doozy. We thought it might be fun to look back at some of the most notable highlights, including the good, the bad, and the ugly. So here goes, our take on 41 things that happened in craft beer, around here, and what we make of it.

          Breweries Just Kept Coming, and Coming . . .
  1. Another 26 breweries opened across Massachusetts, running the state’s total to a whopping 178. Only one closed, though a few others appear to have gone on hiatus.
  2. Six other existing breweries opened their own taprooms, including Second Wind in Plymouth and contract brands Greater Good Imperials, Naukabout, Backlash, and Mighty Squirrel. The sixth was Berkshire Brewing, which converted its Dick Schatz tasting room into a full fledged taproom and began serving full pours for the first time.
  3. As a result of all those openings, there are now 108 cities and towns in the Commonwealth with at least one brewery of their own, and most of them have a taproom.
  4. At this point approximately 95% of the state’s population lives within 10 miles of a brewery, with the only remaining craft beer desert being a corridor of a dozen or so towns between Hampshire, Hampden, and Berkshire Counties.
  5. Some 25 more would-be breweries have announced plans to open in 2019, including Sena Farm Brewery in Worthington – smack dab in the middle of the aforementioned craft beer desert.
  6. A number of regional breweries (those producing 15,000 barrels or more annually) continued to grow and gobble up local market share at a rapid pace, among them Wachusett, Jack’s Abby/Springdale, Lord Hobo, Tree House, Wormtown, Night Shift and Notch.
  7. New England shot past the 500 breweries mark and is fast approaching 600. Less than a dozen closed.
  8. Though we likely didn’t reach it just yet, the region (especially Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire – all of which are already among the nation’s leaders in breweries per capita and consumption per capita) inched ever closer to reaching a saturation point for viable breweries. 
     
    Tooting Our Own Horns
  9. We did our part to support the industry by drinking a lot of beer – some 300 or so gallons of it – while touring every one of the state’s 141 visitable breweries, taking in more than three dozen festivals (and giving away tickets to many of them), hosting a number of blind tastings, and attending countless other anniversaries and events.
  10. We published more than 250 news & blog stories, made well over 2,500 social media posts, and conducted our own craft beer consumer survey, which you can take here.
  11. We made our first appearance on a podcast, recording an episode on Craft Beer Storm about the Massachusetts craft beer culture. We hope to do more.
  12. We also made our first official speaking engagement, delivering a presentation at the Canadian Consulate in Boston on current craft beer trends to a delegation of craft alcohol industry professionals from Nova Scotia. We hope to do more of that, too.
     
    Tooting Other People’s Horns
  13. Five Massachusetts breweries earned medals at the Great American Beer Festival: Wormtown, Jack’s Abby, Castle Island, Cambridge Brewing, and Brewery Silvaticus. See the list here.
  14. Brewery Silvaticus was also selected by Beer Advocate as one of its 50 Best New Breweries, as was Ludlow’s Vanished Valley Brewing.
  15. The Boston Chapter of the Pink Boots Society, an organization that highlights women’s roles within craft beer, grew by leaps and bounds. Some 24 Massachusetts breweries participated in their Collaboration Brew Day, during which female brewsters and other prominent women in the industry created celebratory brews. The 2019 event promises to be even bigger.
  16. Various breweries throughout the state participated in charitable events, none bigger than the recent Sierra Nevada fundraiser beer brewed to benefit the Camp Fire relief effort. 100 percent of the proceeds from the 15 Massachusetts breweries that brewed and are currently serving it at their taprooms goes to the cause.
  17. Applause for 3cross Fermentation Coop in Worcester for becoming the state’s first community-owned brewery, and to Democracy Brewing in Boston’s Downtown Crossing on becoming the first worker-owned brewery.  
     
     Trends That Dominated 2018
  18. Brewery taprooms continued to flourish as direct-to-consumer sales rose an impressive 24 percent nationally. With overall sales of craft rising just 5 percent this year, the so called own-premise model is becoming a key differentiator. We counted 25 new ones that opened across the Commonwealth, running the total to an impressive 131.
  19. When consumers weren’t drinking in taprooms, if weather permitted they were tipping their pints in the great outdoors – either on brewery decks and patios, or at one of the many pop-up beer gardens that opened in public spaces all over the place. So many opened in Metro Boston that we had to add a special edition to our set of beer maps.
  20. Despite aluminum tariffs, 16-ounce cans were F&#%!ng everywhere! An end-of-year tally revealed that three quarters of existing breweries in Massachusetts currently sell at least one offering in cans (and that doesn’t even include crowlers), with several others planning to join the ranks in 2019.
  21. Additionally, more and more breweries hired talented artists to help them create eye-catching label designs on many of those cans. Locals like Dean McKeever (Tree House and others), Nikki Rossignol (Down the Road Beer Co.), and Jim Dumas of Fat Basset Design (Medusa and others) helped brands create a visual identity to better tell their stories and distinguish their products in a crowded market. 
  22. Variety was the spice of most craft beer drinkers’ lives. According to data on Untappd, both Sam Adams and Harpoon brewed more than 100 new or experimental beers available to the public in 2018. And others weren’t far behind: Including one-offs and cask offerings, Castle Island introduced 90 new brews, Night Shift 87, Trillium 86, Medusa 81, Tree House 61, Jack’s Abby/Springdale 60, and Amherst Brewing 59. 
  23. IPAs ran amok, imposing their will on everyone around them. Combined, the style and its variations made up about one third of all craft beer sales nationally, probably even higher here in Massachusetts.
  24. The Brewer’s Association (BA) relented and recognized the New England or Hazy-Juicy IPA (which grew 250 percent in volume) as an official style. After releasing its own version, Sam Adams and a few others began distributing it nationally. Even the monks at Spencer Trappist Brewery got in on the action, introducing their own limited-release NE IPA, in 4-packs of 16-ounce cans of course.
  25. And it didn’t stop there: before long there were Milkshake IPAs, Brut IPAs, and even Sour IPAs. And to cap it all off, in December Beer Advocate had a first-of-its-kind festival that poured – you guessed it – nothing but IPAs.
  26. We calculate that over the course of 2018 thirsty hop heads had their choice of more than 1,000 different IPAs from Massachusetts breweries alone. Listings on Untappd show check-ins for more than 50 different versions from breweries such as Night ShiftTree House, and Trillium. And scores of others brewed dozens more in 2018.
  27. All of this has both of us wondering whether the all-mighty IPA hasn’t finally reached its peak.
     
     There Was No Shortage of Controversy On Tap
  28. Kids at breweries continued to be a touchy subject for the craft beer community. Check out Beer Advocate columnist Andy Crouch’s piece, Of Tykes and Taprooms: Do Kids Belong in Breweries for a nice summary of both sides of the issue.
  29. As we reported back in March, the ABCC put the kibosh on brewing Marijuana-infused beers with an advisory stipulating that manufacturing alcohol with “THC” or “TBD” would remain unlawful. The desire for such products isn’t going away any time soon, so stay tuned. 
  30. Trillium stirred up one heck of a controversy with its decision to cut pay for some of its retail workers, focusing consumer attention on issues like employee compensation practices, tipping for takeaway beer, and the ethos that surrounds craft beer.  Check out our recent blog post to get our take on all three topics.
  31. The Cisco beer brand and its distribution got bought out by big beer, though no one appeared to be paying much attention. Admittedly, the details surrounding the acquisition are hard to unwind. As we understand it, the Cisco brand was bought by Craft Brew Alliance (CBA), a publicly traded company that’s one-third owned by multi national conglomerate AB-InBev. All that remains under Cisco’s ownership is the original island brewery itself – thought virtually none of its beer has been produced there in a few years. Instead, 99 percent of it has been brewed at the CBA facility (formerly the Red Hook brewery) in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which recently converted its on-site taproom into a Mainland Pub called Cisco Portsmouth.
  32. So what does all this mean for craft drinkers? According to BA Economist Bart Watson, Cisco beer produced at CBA in Portsmouth no longer meets the definition of craft. If the island location decides to start brewing again (though It’s unclear whether it will), then any Cisco beer brewed and consumed on Nantucket would be considered craft.
  33. Though it wasn’t really a controversy, a longtime beer writer shocked the craft community by giving up beer and saying goodbye to his column. “I’m killing the Beer Nut so Norman Miller can live,” he wrote in his final piece which described his lifelong struggle with obesity and a need for a lifestyle change that doesn’t include heavy drinking.
  34. Truth be told, and this might sound surprising coming from self professed Brew Bros, we’re planning to pay closer attention to our lifestyle (and the impact drinking has on it) ourselves in the new year. A few of our resolutions include not drinking on an empty stomach, paying more attention to the ABV of the beers we drink, and taking a beer break every now and then. 
     
     Ghosts of Craft Beer Things to Come?
     
  35. Employing the tagline “pioneering a craft beer revolution,” Athletic Brewing, purveyors of non-alcoholic brews, successfully launched in Connecticut this summer. A number of studies show that Generation Z is drinking less alcohol.
  36. According to an article in Market Watch – which cited a study that found in counties where marijuana was legalized, purchases of wine and beer decreased by 15 percent – the author hypothesizes that “marijuana seems ready to replace alcohol as a vehicle for achieving relaxation.”
  37. Locals were quick to claim that Sam Adams was the reason that the BA again agreed to revise the craft brewer definition, but another perspective we recently read about makes an argument that the growing cannabis market ls why the craft beer definition should always be updated
  38. With more than half of 2018’s new breweries opening as nanos (typically 3-barrel system or smaller) or micros (10-barrel system or smaller), and with little or no plans for distribution, it would appear that hyper-local is the new black.
  39. Provincetown Brewing Company, “America’s first gay beer,” launched this fall. It’s taproom and brews won’t be ready until spring, but the founder’s “progressive ideals and activism in supporting causes from LGBTQ+ rights to conservation and more,” is in full swing on their social media accounts.
  40. Beer ratings may have jumped the shark. In a recent audit of top rated Massachusetts beers, we found that Tree House and Trillium occupied an incomprehensible 24 of the top 25 spots on RateBeer, and an even more astonishing 49 of the top 50 spots on Beer Advocate. Two thirds of them were – drumroll please – IPAs.
  41. We still check-in all of our beers on Untappd, but we stopped looking at composite scores or rating them ourselves a while ago. Maybe its time more consumers did the same, and started finding out for themselves what they like best.  

 

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