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We’ve seen the “Buy American” campaigns in relation to automobiles, clothes, “but local” for food, and other items, but the slogan has rarely been applied to beer. I find it very interesting that the industry has managed to avoid the mentality despite the wave of “conglomeration” that’s taken place over the past several years. Then I bumped into this website, so perhaps someone is taking note.

Here is the most recent list of the largest breweries in the U.S., in terms of 2011 sales volume (complete list here):

Rank – Brewing Company – Ownership
1. Anheuser-Busch Inc. (a) – AB InBev, based in Belgium & Brazil
2. MillerCoors (b) – SABMiller, originally South African Brewing, now based in London.
3. Pabst Brewing Co. (c) – naturalized Greek investor C. Dean Metropoulos, based in Los Angeles, CA
4. D. G. Yuengling and Son Inc. – Yuengling family owned, but only distributes to 12 states, primarily in the eastern U.S.
5. Boston Beer Co. – founded Jim Koch & partners, publicly owned (NYSE: SAM)
6. North American Breweries (d) – KPS Capital Parners, New York based investment group
7. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. – owned by founder Ken Grossman
8. New Belgium Brewing Co. – employee owned
9. Craft Brew Alliance, Inc. (e) – public (NASDAQ: BREW). 1/3 shares owned by AB InBev, 18% owned by Rob & Kurt Widmer, founders of Widmer Brewing.
10. The Gambrinus Company (f) – family owned

* Top 10 U.S. Overall Brewing Companies notes: (a) includes Bass, Beck’s, Busch, Goose Island, Landshark, Michelob, Rolling Rock, Shock Top and Wild Blue brands. Does not include partially owned Coastal, Kona, Red Hook and Widmer Brothers brands; (b) includes A.C. Golden, Batch 19, Blue Moon, Colorado Native, Herman Joseph, Keystone, Killian’s and Leinenkugel’s brands; (c) includes Schlitz, Pabst, Old Style, Lone Star, Black Label and 24 other brand families; (d) includes Dundee, Genesee, Labatt Lime, Magic Hat and Pyramid brands; (e) includes Kona, Red Hook and Widmer Brothers brands; (f) includes BridgePort, Shiner and Trumer brands.

It is interesting to note that the top two breweries, who control over 75% of the market, are both foreign-owned conglomerates…and I’ll bet the vast majority of their regular customers do not realize it. Pabst is now a holding and marketing company owned by a naturalized Greek investor who purchased it from a charitable trust. They do not own an actual brewery, but contracts its products with Miller. Most of them are, however, union-made.

The largest American owned breweries are actually Yuengling, which has limited distribution footprint and may be unknown to some people (including consumers in Michigan), and Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams. Yuengling – which also happens to be the oldest brewery in America, dating to 1829, owns two breweries in Pennsylvania and one in Tampa, FL, so they actually brew all their own beer at their own breweries.

Boston Beer Company grew up as a contract brewer – they made their beer at other breweries that had excess capacity (originally Pittsburgh Brewing Company, makers of Iron City, Stroh’s and others) – although they produce most of their own product nowadays as they’ve acquired production facilities as they’ve grown (primarily the former Hudepohl-Schoenling brewery in Cincinnati), with only a limited amount reportedly still contracted by Miller.

The largest brewer who makes all their beer in one place – at least for now – is Sierra Nevada. That will changes soon as they’re in the process of building an East Coast brewery near Ashville, NC.

It is also interesting to note that four of the top ten breweries were founded since 1980.

Obviously, all this is a lot to keep track of and changes take place fairly rapidly, as much of this ownership shuffling has taken place in the past decade. Some of the big guys are nervous, however, because Budweiser has actually made a major label change for the first time in decades, now sporting a fancy “American” red, white and blue moniker to go with their “Great American Lager” ad campaign.

Personally, I find great beers the world over and am not overly concerned with the ownership, aside from companies trying to hide who they are. I find Bud’s above-mentioned  “American” campaign distasteful as it attempts to hide their International corporate merger, and things like Blue Moon & Killians (both made by Coors, now SABMiller/Coors) to be deceptive. In other words, tell the truth and treat consumers like you respect them, not like idiots that need to be misled in pursuit of a quick sale. I’ll, for one, will repay you with regular patronage.