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The Ubiquity of Good Taste: A Spatial Analysis of the Craft Brewing Industry in the United States

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The Geography of Beer


The performance and composition of the U.S. brewing industry have changed dramatically over the past three decades. More specifically, the industry has experienced contradictory shifts in both aggregate production volume and number of firms. While aggregate beer production in the US has increased modestly, per capita beer production has decreased steadily since the early 1980s, dropping 26 % from a record 26.2 barrels per person in 1981 to a low of 19.5 barrels per person in 2011. However, the number of brewing establishments increased substantially during the same period, expanding from 48 breweries in 1981 to nearly 1,700 by 2011–a 3,500 % increase. So what explains this counterintuitive story? And how has this story manifested itself over space? This chapter seeks to answer these questions by analyzing the economic geography of the U.S. craft brewing industry. Specifically, our empirical approach consists of three exercises. First, we examine the temporal changes in the aggregate production volume and the total number of brewing establishments for each state. Second, we examine state-level variation in total beer production, total craft-beer production, percent craft beer production, and per-capita craft beer production. And last, we map the precise location of craft beer establishments to show the spatial and temporal distribution of active craft breweries in the US. Our results are three-fold. First, we find the change in total brewing establishments and total beer production has manifested itself rather unevenly over space. Second, we find that craft-beer production at the state level has also increased in a spatially uneven manner, as the largest production still occurs in the states with a history of high beer production. Last, and in contrast to our first two exercises, we find that within states, the location of active craft-brewing establishments have spread from major urban centers in the 1980s to many non-urban locations by 2011. We conclude that although growth in the craft-brewing sector will continue to be highest in areas with already high levels of brewing activity, there will be significant growth in regions that currently have few brewing establishments.

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  1. 1.

    1 barrel equals 31 U.S. gallons.

  2. 2.

    The Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on December 5, 1933 and repealed the Eighteenth Amendment which had mandated nationwide prohibition on alcohol on January 17, 1920.

  3. 3.

    We base our state clustering procedure on the United States History Map (2007), which is a production of Thirteen/WNET New York.

  4. 4.

    The time-frame displayed in Table 13.2 was determined by data availability in the Brewer’s Almanac.

  5. 5.

    States comprising each region are identified in Tables 13.1, 13.2, and 13.3.

  6. 6.

    Due to data limitations, we are only able to analyze recent growth in the total number of breweries, from 2004–2011. As a result, Figs. 13.6 and 13.7 represent vastly different time periods.


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Correspondence to Ralph B. McLaughlin .

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© 2014 Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht

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McLaughlin, R., Reid, N., Moore, M. (2014). The Ubiquity of Good Taste: A Spatial Analysis of the Craft Brewing Industry in the United States. In: Patterson, M., Hoalst-Pullen, N. (eds) The Geography of Beer. Springer, Dordrecht.

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