2018 Was a Banner Year for Indiana Craft Beer Growth

2018 Was a Banner Year for Indiana Craft Beer Growth

by Mark E. Lasbury for Indiana On Tap

It’s the end of the year, a time to look at how things went and predict how things might go in 2019. Things can be learned from both successes and failures, and Indiana had a number of each in 2018. Overall, the picture is bright and pluses have outweighed minuses, but breweries and craft beer fans must be ever vigilant to make sure that fatal errors are avoided.

This year saw the most brewery openings ever, tied with 2014 with 32 new establishments. Many of these were high;y anticipated, like Mad Paddle, Moontown, Teays River, and 2Toms. But even more were very much under the radar – places that serve local communities and worried less about getting their name out there to the larger community, like Auburn Brewing, Water Tower Estates, and Cognito.

Of course, there were also closings this year, tying with 2017 for the most (5). It’s to be expected that as the number of total breweries grows so will the number of closings, and most lost breweries were a sad thing. There are as many reasons for closings as there are closings, and those breweries that closed in 2018 did so for a number of individual reasons, some of which had multiple issues that led to an unsuccessful outcome. Some had bad business plans, some didn’t progress with their beer, some had ignored the need for marketing. The key is to learn from these and not repeat those mistakes.

Indiana craft beer is strong, a leader in the country in quality and organization. image credit: Indiana On Tap

We did have one brewery open and close in the same calendar year, and the reasons for this were several. However, it’s not the first time that this has happened. I can think of at least two other instances of breweries have closed in the same year they opened, and at least five breweries that closed in the calendar year after their opening.

Back to the happier news, if we dive down into the openings from 2018, we see they are almost evenly split between large population areas and small towns. I think this means that the ultra-local model is and well, and may be splitting into two versions of that model – the neighborhood within a city model, and the small town model. Each has different aspects that are important, but mostly they are about devising business plans that count on selling beer across their bar to keep margins high, and knowing their clientele very well, so that their personal relationships keep people coming back.

The locations of the breweries that opened in 2018 also showed an even distribution across the state. If you split the state into thirds – north, central, and south, my calculations show that eight new breweries came to the north, 18 to the central third, and six to the south. East-west showed a proclivity for breweries in the central portion (16), with eight new breweries on the west side of the state, and only five in the eastern third. Make of these numbers what you will, but I see that the east central part of the state still has a relative paucity of breweries. There is Muncie and three breweries in the general vicinity of Richmond, but that’s about it. Thankfully, a few more will be coming our way in 2019, like 5 Arch, HoosierBoy, and Parlor City.

click for a readable view. image credit: Indiana On Tap

I have been trying to come up with hypothesis about when breweries are likely to open during the year, but 2018 has once again thwarted my attempts. Breaking up the year into quarters, we see that openings were spread equally across all four sections – 11 in Jan. – March, 8 in April – June, 6 in July – Sept., and 7 in Oct. – December. I guess that we’ll see the spread out nature of openings continue, both in time and space.

In terms of the beer itself, I hesitate to talk to much about good beer or bad beer – so much of it is subjective. However, there is technically flawed beer, and that has proven over time to have an affect on the longevity of breweries. Happily, I will say that I think more breweries in 2018 opened with “better” beer than in the past. The higher number of breweries to begin the year meant that competition for the affections of the craft beer drinker was higher, so the beer had to better for them to survive. Many breweries across the state hit the ground running in 2018, so many that I hesitate to name them for fear of missing someone.

Let’s just say that you’re chances of finding a good beer at a new brewery went way up in 2018. This will undoubtedly continue into 2019 for two reasons. One, the competition is even greater now, and two, breweries are generous with their time and advice to help out new establishments. Craft beer has its stinkers, but for the great majority, these are good people that want to help other people make good beer.

Again, click for a much more readable view of this image. image credit: Indiana On Tap

Conclusion. If we look at 2018 and how it fits into the overall growth of craft beer, it would seem that Indiana is faring better than many states. Supposedly the growth of craft beer is slowing, but the chart of openings and total breweries in Indiana in this piece shows this not to be so locally. What’s more, I have another 22 breweries on my list that are very likely to open in 2019.

The Brewers Association has Indiana with 137 breweries (2017 numbers), but I have already sent them an email of breweries that have missed that opened before 2018, in 2018, and are in planning. I think Indiana’s national ranking will move up significantly in the next year, and the number of breweries is just the beginning. There are so many breweries in this state making excellent beer that Indiana is now emerging as a craft beer mecca, with breweries winning medals, sending out great beer, and making great food to go with their beer.

In our past, Indiana has had a small period of time when the number of breweries actually stagnated or shrunk (2001-2007), but for the most part, this has been a story of a state gaining momentum. At this point, if we see more closings or a decrease in openings, it won’t mean a shrinking of the market, just a maturation. The state of Indiana craft beer at this end of 2018 is strong, and looks to remain that way into 2019.


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