Locally, we are up to 30 breweries now open in Allegheny County. That’s a 50% increase so far this year, and there are at least 4 more on the way. Our interactive map of breweries in Western Pennsylvania  shows them all, along with the rest of the breweries in Pennsylvania.

The chart above illustrates the entire 28-year history of craft brewing in Allegheny County, starting with the opening of Penn Brewery in 1989.  Penn had the market to itself until 1995, but the subsequent two years saw seven additional breweries roll out. The field was basically stagnant until 2011, with some of the newcomers failing and a few others opening their taps. Things really started to flow in 2012, as the number of breweries more than tripled over the last five years.

Given this recent rapid rate of growth, it is not surprising that the question of a “brewery bubble” comes up regularly. Over a year ago, WESA asked whether Pittsburgh was about to become a “craft beer destination” or a brewery graveyard.  Going back over the last several years, you can find many others questioning whether this trend is sustainable or if a bursting of the bubble is inevitable.

The picture may become more clear when we expand our focus over a longer time period. After all, Pittsburgh has a history of brewing that goes back more than 250 years and there have been previous times when local breweries were plentiful. Prior to Prohibition, the Pittsburgh area sustained more than sixty breweries (Musson, 2012).

More recent changing demographics also provide opportunities for the growth of craft breweries in Pittsburgh. Millennials represent the most significant segment of the craft beer drinking population (Brewers Association, 2014) and the population of Millennials in Pittsburgh grew by 53% in the last 15 years (The PEW Charitable Trusts, 2016).

A history of abundant breweries is no guarantee that all of today’s breweries will thrive. We have seen area breweries come and go in the past and it is likely that not every existing brewery will thrive forever. A brewery without a quality product and a good business plan will be unlikely to survive indefinitely and there may even be some period of retrenchment in the industry as a whole. But the craft beer scene in Pittsburgh today is vibrant and that is unlikely to change as long as our appetite for quality, local beer is sustained.

Data from Ed Vidunas and the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board.

In our next installments, we will take a look at the “bubble issue“ from a national perspective and consider whether Prohibition was responsible for the demise of local breweries. Make sure you are on our mailing list so that you will be notified when the next installment comes out.

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