Craft beers brew up booming business

Oscar Wong has been a beer man since the day he and a buddy caught the lusty aroma of a homemade brew from a janitor’s Pepsi bottle back at his alma mater, Notre Dame University.

“We said, ‘That ain’t Pepsi,’” says Wong, 71, who emigrated to the U.S. from China in 1959. That day a half-century ago, Wong started making his own beer, and a lifelong passion of making a product he says “brings smiles to people’s faces” poured forth.

Wong’s Highland Brewing is now in its 18th year in Asheville, N.C., one of many hot spots of the brewing of “craft” beer, the specialty suds heavy on flavor, experimentation and local identity. Ten other breweries have opened in Asheville since 1994. Nationally, from Sam Adams, which makes 2 million barrels a year, to Wong’s 29,000, the industry is growing robustly.

Even as U.S. beer consumption overall is flat, the craft brew market is booming, with double-digit sales growth last year. The Brewers Association says that since 2004, craft brews have doubled their market share to nearly 6 percent, and that 250 breweries opened last year. The 1,940 operating in 2011 were the most since the 1880s, the industry group says.

“Beer drinkers are much more knowledgeable than 15 years ago,” says Paul Gatza, director of the Brewers Association. “Local is a major purchase-decision point these days, so local brewers that keep money circulating in a community is where people want to put their money. And the beer drinker is starting to discover hops” the same way wine drinkers know grapes.

Consumption of craft brews, with names such as Cooperstown, N.Y.-based Brewery Ommegang’s Three Philosophers, or Wong’s caffeine-infused Thunderstruck Coffee Porter, was up 13 percent, the Brewers Association says. The group says 11.5 million barrels were made by local breweries in 2011, and breweries with an estimated 3 million barrels of capacity are being built or planned.

This entry was posted in Vicki's View. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *