The Bay State Now Has 200 Breweries, What Does That Mean For the Future of the Local Brewing Industry?
Despite concerns over a looming bubble, and speculation by some that the local craft beer scene has reached saturation, Massachusetts recently hit a notable milestone with the opening of its 200th brewery. That’s more than twice as many as when we started our Mass. Brew Bros. venture just five years ago. As the graph below indicates, the Bay State had fewer than 100 breweries at the end of 2014, including then-notable newbies like Somerville’s Aeronaut, Easthampton’s Fort Hill, and Navigation Brewing in Lowell. Since then, five straight years of double digit growth, including 2017’s record-breaking 36 openings, has delighted hop heads in every corner of the state. During that same stretch, less than 30 have closed, and many of those were small, obscure breweries or lesser known contract brands.
We’ve been tracking the number of existing breweries, as well as annual openings and closings, for some time now. And both the Brewers Association (BA) and Mass Brewers Guild (MBG) consult with us when compiling their totals (which they do quarterly – our website totals are in real time). The definition we use to determine a Massachusetts brewery is any licensed beer maker that has its own brewery, or is both produced and distributed at another brewery in the Bay State. Our figures include not only the 160 visitable locations you’ll find on our maps, but also the 19 production or pilot breweries, as well as the 21 contract brands that don’t have their own brick and mortar space. You can see every one of the 200 commercial brewers on our A to Z list of Massachusetts breweries. The infographic below breaks it all down for you by category.
Some of the state’s newest breweries include Tacklebox Brewing in Marlborough, Trillium’s new Fenway location, Lawrence’s first brewery – Spicket River, Distraction Brewing in Roslindale, Wormtown’s Patriot Place pilot brewery in Foxboro, and Brighton’s Brato Brewhouse & Kitchen (the 200th). In all, 2019 has seen more than 20 new brewery openings, with as many as a dozen more still hoping to debut before year’s end. Pending notables include Back Beat Brewing in Beverly, Great Marsh Brewing in Essex, Kismet Brewing in Westfield, and two additional locations for Wachusett Brewing, one in Worcester and another in Cambridge. They’re all part of the meteoric industry growth that started back in 2012 and hasn’t relented since.
In its most recent report, the BA estimates that the craft brewing business contributes some $2 billion annually toward the state’s economy, and employs approximately 16,000 people state wide. As stated in the report, “that figure is derived from the total impact of craft beer as it moves through the three-tier system (breweries, wholesalers and retailers), as well as all non-beer products like food and merchandise that brewpub restaurants and brewery taprooms sell.”
Recent news about the closings of several established breweries, and a bankruptcy filing by another, has prompted questions about whether Massachusetts has reached peak beer, but local beer twitter doesn’t think so. Not according to a recent poll we conducted at least. Still, it does seem like we may be reaching a shakeout phase in the industry, something we investigated in a recent blog post. And our projections for brewery closings are on track to reach double digits by year’s end, the first time that’s happened since the late 1990s.
With the likes of Chicopee, Falmouth, Provincetown, Taunton, Wilbraham and others welcoming breweries this year, the number of cities and towns that now have their own beer maker has reached 100. And by our calculations, more than 90 percent of the state’s population now lives within 10 miles of a craft brewery. Even more astonishing is that 160 visitable destinations now exist across the Commonwealth, and all but 6 of them have taprooms where you can enjoy a fresh brewed pint on premises.
A breakdown by brewery size, measured in beer production, reveals that 12 Massachusetts beer companies are classified as regional brewers, meaning they produce 15,000 barrels or more annually. All told, they account for nearly two thirds of the state’s total production and are widely available through distribution to bars, restaurants, and liquor stores. The remaining third of total production comes from micro and nano breweries, many of which produce a few thousand barrels or less on an annual basis, much of which is served or sold from their own taproom.
A breakdown by region shows that Metro Boston is the most densely populated area for breweries, with 27 situated within roughly a 25-square mile radius. Southeastern Mass. has 28, and Western Mass. has 27, but both are spread out over a much larger geographic area. And a breakdown by cities and towns highlights that several have become so-called craft beer destinations, where thirsty visitors can visit three or more nearby taprooms in one day. Among them are Worcester, Somerville, Northampton, Framingham, Beverly, and Weymouth.
Having reached 200 breweries (and counting) in Massachusetts, it seems more appropriate than even to cite the often used cliche, there’s never been a better time to be a craft beer drinker in the Bay State. And we’ll drink to that.