Thursday, August 7, 2014

Craft beer booming as the Taste comes to town

It’s early August, which means it’s time for Great Taste of the Midwest here in Madison, and the massive amount of pre-parties that are in Madison bars on Friday night. Other duties and the $60 price tag are keeping me away this year from the main event for the first time in a while, but as usual the Taste sold out immediately. This thing just keeps growing, with more than 150 brewers at Olin-Turville Park on Saturday, and it’s befitting the boom that the craft beer industry has had in the last few years.

Craft beer’s Brewers Association says the amount of breweries in America nearly doubled from 2006 to 2013, reaching more than 2,800. That number went up by 15% in 2013 alone, and the Association says it’s the largest amount of individual breweries the nation has had since the 1870s, when selling your product coast-to-coast and taking advantage of economies of scale was a whole lot less common. And while craft brewing makes up a less than 8% of the total U.S. beer volume, craft beer sales and production was up double digits in 2013 while total beer production went down, showing that consumers are making a point of choosing microbrews.

And unlike a lot of other areas in the economy, Wisconsin has been a strong player in the craft beer market, rising from 73 breweries in 2011 to 90 in 2013. The state rated 9th in the country for total barrels of craft beer made in 2013, at more than 444,000, and the Brewers Association estimates the Wisconsin craft beer industry had an economic impact nearing $856 million in 2012 ($206 per capita for residents over 21, which is the best in the Midwest).

With the impressive gains in the Badger State for brewing over the last few years, it makes sense that State Rep. Gary Tauchen from Shawano County proposed a bill this year that would set up a Wisconsin Beer Commission, which would serve a similar purpose to the state’s Milk Marketing Board. And Tauchen’s bill would include strong representation from middle-level and small craft brewers.
"When I think of the three things Wisconsin is good at making -- cheese, brats and beer -- I thought, how can we leverage that? Then I thought, the Milk Marketing Board does research on cheese and that has helped that industry tremendously by finding new markets for those products," Tauchen said. "I want this commission and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to take beer to the next level."

Tauchen said he would like to bring more beer travelers to Wisconsin. He explained how he wants to help promote travel in the state by touting its brewpubs, micro breweries and larger brewers. The commission would comprise four members representing Wisconsin brewers or brewpubs that make 300,000 barrels of beer or less, one brewer that makes more than 300,000 barrels of beer, a beer wholesaler, and a chairperson.
The Beer Commission bill had bipartisan support, with 6 Dems and 5 GOPs co-sponsoring it in the Assembly and 1 Dem and 1 GOP co-sponsoring it in the Senate, but it didn’t get through in this session. We’ll see where it goes in future ones.

But for now, I’m going to enjoy another Great Taste weekend from the growing craft beer industry, and I hope you help out your local brewer and have a couple yourself on what looks to be a tremendous August weekend.

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