Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Leaders of the state’s craft-beer industry

Craft beer is a big deal in our state, though the growth has slowed from the double-digit growth before the pandemic, based on annual data from the Brewers Association trade group. Tim Kent, who leads the N.C. Beer and Wine Wholesalers Association compiled some interesting data about the craft-beer industry from the national group.

The largest craft-brewer in the state is Artisanal Brewing Ventures, which is based in Charlotte but makes most of its beer in Pennsylvania and New York. It produced about 386,000 barrels last year, which is about 10 times the output of No. 2 Asheville-based Highland Brewing. The Wong family-owned brewery made about 38,000 barrels.

Tied for No. 3 are Red Oak Brewing of Whitsett and Sycamore Brewing of Charlotte, each with 28,000 barrels. They are followed by No. 4 Hi-Wire Brewing, with 25,325 barrels distributed to its tap rooms in Asheville and a half-dozen other cities. Next in line are NoDa Brewing with about 18,700 barrels and Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, with 16,000 barrels. Both are based in Charlotte.

Those breweries are considered regional operators because they sell in multiple markets.

The breweries that brew less than 15,000 barrels are called microbreweries. The leader in that segment in North Carolina is Aviator Brewing in Fuquay-Varina, which produced 14,000 barrels. Five other breweries produced from 6,000 to 6,800 barrels: Fullstream of Durham, Sugar Creek of Charlotte, Mother Earth of Kinston, Southern Pines Brewing, and Green Man of Asheville.

While each of those businesses are important community cogs, Kent notes that the two largest N.C. craft brewers by far are New Belgium, which is owned by the parent company of Japan’s Kirin brand, and privately held Sierra Nevada, which is based in Chico, California.

“New Belgium had a bonkers 2022” with production soaring 15% to 1.2 million barrels because of the popularity of its Voodoo Ranger IPA portfolio, Kent said in an email. He notes that New Belgium makes about half of its beer in Asheville with the balance made in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Sierra Nevada made about 1.06 million barrels last year, down about 4% from the previous year. Its production is split between Mills River, near Asheville, and Chico, California.

Kent, whose group includes sellers of the giant beer brands, recalled how purists mocked the sale of Asheville’s Wicked Weed brand in 2016 to giant Anheuser-Busch. (That is the company that has its hands full with Bud Light right now.)

Seven years later, production of Wicked Weed soared to 115,000 barrels from 20,000, and the brewery remains based in Asheville.

David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at

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