The Year in Craft Beer - Top 10 Craft Beer Trends of 2011

Every year on December 31st we count down everything from the top-100 Music Videos to the 25 most shocking moments caught on camera….so I started thinking, “why not craft beer?”  While we all know that everything from Beyonce to Beiber will grab first place on MTV’s countdown, and that Dick Clarke will have us glued to the crystal ball in Times Square at midnight, I thought we might all enjoy a quick peek back at the stories and events that shaped craft beer locally & nationally in 2011…and no worries…I’ll keep it brief so you’re done reading before Dick drops the ball.

10.  Head EAST Young Man…
We followed along as some of the largest small craft breweries on the west coast started hunting down east coast locations.  The New Belgium Fat Tire bicycle went missing on the label, and as it turns out it was because they rode it to the east coast in search of a new multi-million dollar brewing facility.  Will it be Philly, Muskegon or Asheville NC (like everyone else)…and when will they distribute to PA?  Only 2012 will tell.

Weeks before the New Belgium search began, Sierra Nevada made big news with their announcement that Ken Grossman was seeking a location for a $4-million East Coast Brewing Facility.  Again we watched as cities and states were ruled in and ruled out….would it be Alcoa TN or Asheville, NC?  Only Ken’s hairdresser knows for sure.

And finally we watch more and more craft breweries expand their footprint to the east, most notably & recently…Kona Brewing expanding into PA….good news for those of us on the east coast.

9. Buy Me…

Certainly the granddaddy of all buyouts in 2011 was the battle that raged between SAB-Miller & Foster’s over the hostile and not so hostile buy out of Foster’s.  Granted this didn’t compare to the $52-billion InBev/Anheuser-Busch deal in 2008, but it was no chump change at just over $10 Billion.

And who could forget the March 2011 buyout of Goose Island Beer by Anheuser-Busch for $40-million (followed by the Greg Hall urination departure.)  Quite a contrast in buy-outs and I suspect there are more to come in 2012.

8. Litigation Not Collaboration…
It was interesting to see what we as craft beer lover consider “one big happy family,” have some family spats in 2011.  Sadly, I think we forget that craft beer is and needs to be a business first and foremost, and a family perhaps a close 2nd.

Our local breweries were not immune as we saw Troegs file a cease & desist letter with Fegley’s Brew Works  over the use of the Elf on Rude Elf’s Reserve (because of it’s similarities to their Mad Elf.)  Fortunately after trading press releases, & much editorializing, the case was resolved in early Dec.

Not to be outdone, Boston Beer sued Anchor brewing over a former employee, Flying Dog sued the state of Michigan over the name Raging Bitch, and even Bell’s Brewery sent a letter of cease & desist to Northern Brewer over the use of the Three Hearted Ale name…All too reminiscent of the Monster v Vermonster battle from 2009 that actually helped put Rock Art on the map.  Thankfully in the end the brewing family moves forward and on to what we’d all rather see them spending their energy on….brewing great beer.

7. Moving on Up…
In a never ending juggle, we saw some pretty major moves made by some of our local and not so local brew masters.  Most notably was our very own Terry Hawbaker leaving Bullfrog Brewing in Williamsport, PA for the big city & bright lights (that’s a farmers Cabinet joke), of the Farmer’s cabinet in Philadelphia.  Rumored at first to be called “The Grain Exchange” or “The Grainery",” it turns out Terry now spends most of is time in Alexandria, VA brewing for the Farmers Cabinet at the former Shenandoah Brewery.

Locally we also saw our pal Bart Rippel leave the Riverhouse Brewpub, Leo Bongiorno leave Shawnee Craft, and Guy Hagner move on from Berwick Brewing to land at the new Susquehanna Brewing.   Nationally we saw Joe Mohrfeld leaving Odell Brewing and even the more recent move by Pizza Port’s multi-GABF award winning Jeff Bagby to the a new startup.

6. Share and Share Alike…

This may deserve to be higher than Number 6, but it’s been very entertaining to watch the craft beer market share continue to rise, up 15% by dollar sales in just the first half of 2011, and up 14% by volume, the craft beer juggernaut continues to march forward.  We’ll have the final 2011 numbers in a few weeks, and I suspect the trend will increase even more.

Quite frankly the craft beer growth has been phenomenal, but don’t think the big guys haven’t noticed….watch as the trend for macro breweries building out (or buying) craft beer line-ups continues in 2012.

5.  Lawmakers dive into the beer…
It’s always amazing to see how lawmakers continue to be involved with alcohol…now you can certainly fill in your own drunken senator joke here, but 2011 was an amazing year for state legislatures putting their hands into the beer biz.  Most notably, especially for those of us in PA, is the ongoing (never ending) debate to privatize or not privatize the state’s beer, wine & liquor sales.  This debate raged in 2011 and I’m sad to say I’m doubtful we’ll see an end any time soon.

Also worth mentioning is the Jester King v Texas (No More Beer in Texas) story, the Wisconsin Three-Tier debate and even the $3.75 million dollar incentives offered up to Sierra Nevada in Asheville, NC.

Sad to say, but I suspect the more our lawmakers realize the income potential, the more they will embrace laws that help the small craft breweries; unfortunately I suspect that embrace will also include one hand in their pockets.

4. STOP…Collaborate and Listen….
If 2011 is to be remembered for it’s legislation and litigation

, let us be sure to bathe in the warm glow of the 2011 collaboration beers we saw hitting the streets.  From an east-coast / west-coast standpoint, I have to admit I loved seeing our pals Mitch Steele and John Trogner get together with Kevin Shepard & Jason Fields to brew Stone/Troegs Cherry Chocolate Stout.  This to me was like witnessing Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin getting together for a live concert in my back yard.  The beer was wonderful and the connection Troegs & Stone made will live on I’m sure.

I will admit that unless Mitch isn’t coming clean on this one, he and Stone Brewing managed to collaborate on a beer in 2011 with everyone but perhaps Justin Beiber.  From the Alchemist to Portsmouth, the list is long and also includes Stone co-brews with Ninkasi, Fat Heads, Bear Republic, Pizza Port, Green Flash, Victory, Dogfish Head, 21st Amendment, Firestone Walker, Elysian, The Bruery, Kona and even Ishii…and yes I’m sure I missed a few.

Other non-Stone co-brews in 2011 included Troegs/Fatheads test batch, the upcoming Farmers Cabinet /Stillwater Artisanal Wabash Cannonball, Dogfish Head/Sierra Nevada Life & Limb, Terrapin/Shmaltz Reunion, Project Venus and WAY too many others to even list.

It’s been a year for combining talents, creating new beer styles, making connections and just plain having fun brewing, and I for one hope that trend continues in 2012.

image3. MMMMMHop & Other Assorted Sillies…. 
What top 10 list would be complete without including the Silly Beer Stories of 2011.  Who could forget that the band Hanson decided to create a beer called MmmHop, or that singer Adele finds North American beer unacceptable?  Who would want to forget that in addition to the internet, most of the free world, and likely portions of Mars, Google now owns a beer called Urkontinent (Brewed with DFH).

Honorable mentions certainly go to Tim Tebow TeBrew & Tsingtao/Miami Heat…..BUT Perhaps my favorite of the year would have to be the story of Boner Beer Founders suing CFO Wang over the miss-use of funds from Van der Bonerbosch.  Just read that headline to yourself three or four times…it has “win” written all over it.

2. Stand back while I expand….
I’ve personally been amazed at all of the stories of craft beer expansion going on in 2011.  There are way too many to mention but we should highlight, Lion Brewery’s expansion, Bell’s Brewery, The Bruery expansion, Lagunitas new brewhouse disaster, Allagash expansion, Sly Fox’s expansion, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Sweetwater, DuClaw…even our very own Yuengling expanded.  This is definitely not an all-inclusive list and there and hundreds of other breweries and millions of other dollars being invested in the name of increased brewing capacity in the small craft beer market.  What better testimony as to what great craft beer “stuff” we can expect in 2012.

1. Check out My New Brewery!
It was an amazing year for new craft breweries opening their doors in 2011.  Not since the early 1900’s in pre-prohibition days has the US seen so many craft & regional breweries, and it’s been an amazing ride watching them all open.

We’ve watched some small breweries get their start in 2011 like Purple Healer, Marley's, Turkey Hill, South County, Riverhouse, Boxcar Brewing Millbock Brewing, Helltown, Yorkholo, Full Pint, Prism, Beaver Brewing, 3 Guys & a Beer’d, Dingle Brewing, Hijinx Brewing,  Liquid Hero, Neshaminy Creek, Swashbuckler…and WAY to many others to even mention.

So what stands out most in 2011?  I’ll admit my local-bias up front, but most notable for me are three:  First it is hard to ignore just how amazing the new Troegs Hershey facility is.  What we have affectionately named “T2” is quite frankly amazing, and with few exceptions, T2 has to be one of the most well designed craft breweries I’ve had the pleasure to visit.  Perhaps it’s the 100bbl Braukon brewhouse, the dedicated Scratch Beer system, the well organized & exposed stainless steel pipes, or just the massive wooden bar & family style table…whatever the case T2 will rock your craft-brewing-world.  In case you missed the T2-boat here, be sure to check out Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 Part 4 or Part 5 of my visit!

I’m also excited to mention the soon-to-be-open Susquehanna Brewing Co in Pittston, PA.  We brought you first news of Susquehanna back in Feb., news of Jaime Jurado signing on as Operating Partner & Master Brewer, and even news of Guy Hagner joining the team…and while the doors are not officially open, I suspect we’ll see their new 50bbl Braukon system pumping out beer very soon.

On the opposite end of the financial scale, it’s been an amazing ride watching Mark Lehman and Chris Miller from Breaker Brewing work their butts off to open their new brewing facility & brewpub on Northampton St in Wilkes-Barre Twp.  These guys have been amazing in their resourcefulness and amazing in their sheer persistence to build out their brewery.  It’s been and continues to be a massive undertaking for two guys to build a brewery one nail at a time, but I’m very happy to report that with the help of family members and friends, I’m confident we’ll all sit and raise a pint at their new facility in 2012.

Should Old Acquaintance NOT Be Forgot
2011 has been quite a year, and quite a ride for me personally. has seen incredible growth, and the WILK Friday BeerBuzz with my radio family and guests, continues to be an amazing experience.  What beer story will stand out most for me in 2011?  Quite simply, it would have to be the people.  I’ve had a chance to meet many of you in 2011, most over a beer (and perhaps some over a few beers,) but what sticks in my head most is the passion and the energy you all share for craft beer.  In the end, 2011 will be a year of of great craft beer and great craft beer stories, but mostly a story of great people.  We started this adventure back in 2007 with one goal in mind, and as we say adieu to 2011, I promise most of all in 2012 that I will continue my promise to “bring good beers and good people together…”  Cheers 2011!

About Bil Cord

Founder, owner, author, graphic designer, CEO, CFO, webmaster, president, mechanic and janitor for Producer and Co-host of the WILK Friday BeerBuzz live weekly craft beer radio show. Small craft-brewer of the craft beer news sites and one-man-band with way too many instruments to play.

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