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BEER in Review

A look back at how craft beer changed in 2017

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It’s the last FW issue of the year and therefore the last Pint Sized column in 2017. It was a year of change, for better and for worse. On one hand, the art of craft beer production reached new heights. On the other, several high-profile acquisitions stunned true believers. And so, this 2017 craft beer retrospect.

Craft brewery growth continued, albeit at a somewhat slower pace. According to Brewers Association, as 2017 fades out, there are more than 6,000 breweries, and 83 percent of adults of drinking age in the U.S. live within 10 miles of one. This growth builds the economy with nearly a half-million jobs and almost $68 billion. In addition, craft breweries donated more than $73 million to charitable causes in 2017.

In April, the owner of The Boston Beer Company–the mother company of Samuel Adams–made a splash with an op-ed in The New York Times. In the article, Jim Koch raised the specter of an imminent collapse of the craft beer bubble. He based his speculation on the recent consolidation of SABMiller and AB InBev that essentially created one mega-brewer controlling the lion’s share of beer production and sales. He lamented the current trend of craft brewers selling to the duopoly, writing, “Drinkers buying cute-sounding brands like Goose Island or Terrapin or Ten Barrel are often unaware that these brands … are now just subsidiaries of AB InBev or Molson Coors.”

In May, two major players rocked the craft beer world with a story just like that–they’d sold to big beer. Lagunitas Brewing Company, California’s bad boys of craft beer, announced that Heineken had owned a 50 percent stake in the company since September 2015; the other 50 percent was being sold to the Dutch company–the whole shebang was going to the Amsterdam boys. In a stunning, surprising turn of events, Asheville brewer Wicked Weed Brewing announced it had been acquired by AB InBev. The news triggered dozens of reports of sellers pouring the beer out–even WW’s popular Funk Fest was canned as brewers pulled out.

In June, housing news website Curbed published an in-depth article extolling the virtues of craft breweries in piddling towns and neighborhoods. The article went into great detail about how breweries like Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company brought a downtrodden neighborhood back to life; it’s now a thriving district known as Ohio City. The same resurgence is evident in Jacksonville’s Springfield Historic District, with the opening of Hyperion Brewing Company–the first of two breweries to open in Springfield in 2017—in May.

To help differentiate craft beer from crafty beer, the Brewers Association began a campaign in July to certify “Independent Craft Brewers” with a seal and logo depicting an upside-down beer bottle. The art represents how craft beer has turned the brewing industry on its head.

In August, another craft beer favorite, South Florida’s Funky Buddha Brewery, was snapped up by a conglomerate—New York’s Constellation Brands, owners of Corona.

While not all of 2017’s news was good, it was a busy year for beer-lovers. Northeast Florida’s brewery numbers expanded exponentially with the addition of eight beer-making establishments.

So with optimism and thirst, let’s raise our mugs, steins, barrels, whatever–here’s to an interesting and prosperous 2018.

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