Brewers Association's annual Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies by Sales Volume • Graphic via Brewers Association

Brewers Association’s annual Top 50 U.S. Craft Brewing Companies by Sales Volume • Graphic via Brewers Association

Despite the industry-wide decline in beer sales in 2020, three Minnesota breweries landed again on the top 50 craft breweries in the U.S. by sales volume.

Summit Brewing Company in St. Paul remained steady from 2019 to 2020 at #21 on the list published by Brewers Association. August Schell Brewing Company rose two spots from #25 to #23 in 2020. Surly Brewing Company slid two spots from #34 to #36 in 2020.

For the most part, the list didn’t show many wild swings in breweries’ rankings, suggesting that the decline in on-premise beer sales negatively affected the majority of the nation’s largest brewers in similar ways. However, some of the data from the list do suggest that the pandemic has not affected all breweries equally. Hershey, Pennsylvania’s Tröegs Brewing, for one, made a substantial jump in the rankings from #27 in 2019 to #20 in 2020. 3 Floyds Brewing in Munster, Indiana, also jumped in the rankings from #31 to #24.

On the other hand, some brewers seem to have felt the sting of the pandemic more acutely. Stalwart Alaskan Brewing Company fell four spots from #22 to #26 and 21st Amendment Brewing fell five spots from #29 to #34. Karl Strauss Brewing Company had the most dramatic fall, dropping completely from the rankings from #39 in 2019. Four other breweries that fell from the rankings in 2020 were Wachusett (#43 in 2019), Full Sail Brewing Company (#46 in 2019), Bear Republic (#49 in 2019), and North Coast Brewing Company (#50 in 2019).

Top 50 newcomers replacing those brands include BrewDog (#41 in 2020), Toppling Goliath Brewing Company (#43 in 2020), Fremont Brewing (#45 in 2020), Creature Comforts Brewing (#48 in 2020), Montauk Brewing Company (#49), and New Holland Brewing Company (#50 in 2020).

“The COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed where Americans purchased alcohol in 2020. Breweries who had established packaging and distribution capacity were best positioned to take advantage of the boom in off-premise sales and weather market uncertainty,” said Bart Watson, chief economist, Brewers Association. “These businesses also saw variation in performance based on geography and business model, with different parts of the country seeing very different beer trends, and draught-heavy breweries suffering.”

The downturn was a significant step back for the country’s beer industry. In an analysis published in December 2020, Watson wrote, “Small and independent brewers are on track to see their numbers decline 7–8% in 2020. For 2021, my models are showing growth of 6–7% over 2020, but production levels that still fall below 2019, meaning it will take craft until 2022 to recover to its previous levels, and longer to fully return to the growth trend it had been following of 3–4% per year.”

A different report from three industry trade groups—the Beer Institute, the Brewers Association, the National Beer Wholesalers Association, and the American Beverage Licensees—published in September 2020 forecasted the COVID-19 pandemic would result in retail beer sales declining by more than $22 billion.

In Minnesota, craft beverage producers have been lobbying to reform the state’s liquor laws to allow them to sell beer to-go in smaller format packaging, lift the state’s “Growler Cap,” allow cideries and brewpubs to self-distribute, update state tax codes for wineries to fall in line with federal code, and allow distilleries to sell industry-standard 750-milliliter bottles to-go from cocktail rooms. None of the proposed bills have received committee hearings and face stiff headwinds moving forward, although the Minnesota Craft Brewers Guild launched a new political action committee, MN Beer PAC, to continue the push for reforms. The PAC says it will use monetary donations to “support legislative candidates, ballot initiatives, and pieces of legislation that positively impact the growth and sustainability of the Minnesota craft beer industry, and, in turn, oppose candidates, initiatives, and legislation that negatively impact our breweries.”

Full list of Top 50 U.S. Craft Breweries & Top 50 Overall Breweries in 2020 • Graphic via Brewers Association

Full list of Top 50 U.S. Craft Breweries & Top 50 Overall Breweries in 2020 • Graphic via Brewers Association