According to the Brewers Association’s annual growth report, craft breweries are expected to grow 4 percent by volume in 2019. This equates to about 1 million barrels of beer, which is about the same volume growth as last year, although BA chief economist Bart Watson adds that 2019 numbers are not yet final.

Basically, we can consider growth “steady,” Watson told Brewbound, but sustaining that growth will likely be a challenge as more small breweries continue to open. Currently, “[w]e’re approaching 8,000” breweries operating in the U.S., he said.

More breweries — and more beer — sounds like a great way to increase the industry’s presence. But to sustain growth in the beer category as a whole, we need more mouths, too. While breweries big and small introducing hard seltzers and other beer-adjacent beverages seems successful for now, chasing consumers’ promiscuous palates can only get us so far.

Staying ahead of fickle, fizzy trends will require breweries making genuine connections with the neighborhoods in which they open and operate. This goes beyond community service efforts, or hosting or participating in local events. It means hiring people in that community, listening to their requests, and yes, marketing to them, too.

For small, new breweries, the days of casting a wide net are over. The target audience is right next door.

Crowns & Hops Wins ‘Pitch Slam’ Competition

At Brewbound’s 2019 Pitch Slam competition, Inglewood, Calif.’s Crowns & Hops Brewing took home the trophy for having the best business pitch. The brewery-in-planning aims to promote craft beer among African-American communities.

Crowns & Hops was founded by Beny Ashburn, CEO, and Teo Hunter, head of beer operations, in February 2019. The brand launched in partnership with Scottish brewery BrewDog, which invested in the brand. Previously, Ashburn and Hunter ran the beer lifestyle brand Dope & Dank, which produced content and apparel based on its mantra, “Black People Love Beer.”

“Six years ago, we noticed a big void of black and brown cultural representation in the craft beer industry,” Ashburn said during Crowns & Hops’ pitch on Thursday. “Since then, we’ve been dedicated to promoting diversity and inclusion in craft beer. Our brand mission is to preserve culture, expand the palate, and build the community.”

Along with a trophy, Crowns & Hops won a paid trip to Craft Brew Alliance’s headquarters in Portland, Ore., “where they will engage in strategy sessions, a $10,000 advertising package and free registration to Brewbound Live Winter 2020,” according to Brewbound.

This is an exciting win for the beer community. I consider Crowns & Hops’ arrival one of 2019’s biggest beer stories. The more individuals, brands, and leaders like these can get access to business resources and mentorship, the more welcoming and successful the craft beer industry can be. I look forward to the day the student becomes the master, when Ashburn, Hunter, and the future Crowns & Hops team are guiding smaller brands into “the new now.”

(Read more about Crowns & Hops and “the new now” in this VinePair interview published in March 2019.)