The challenges wrought by the pandemic have proven to be far more lasting than the temporary shutdowns to hospitality in 2020. That loss of business caused many taproom breweries and brewpubs—which form the bulk of the 9,200-plus breweries in the United States—to lean more into packaging and distribution. Now, an oversaturated marketplace leaves many of those breweries in a precarious situation.
The pandemic and subsequent labor shortages, climate change, and global unrest all have combined to continue frustrating the supply chain. Shortages and rising costs present potential headaches at almost every step of beermaking, from malt to CO2 to packaging—not to mention exponentially longer lead times for equipment deliveries.
Breweries that raise prices to offset some of these costs risk losing sales as drinkers spend less in the face of inflation and a potential recession. Those consumers also appear to be increasingly drawn to hard seltzer and ready-to-drink cocktails (RTDs), which are squeezing craft beer out of needed retail shelf space. While Brewers Association chief economist Bart Watson includes one merciful prediction in his 2023 outlook—that supply costs will drop somewhat—he also sees supply-chain issues continuing and brewery openings dipping to their lowest in a decade.
Yet survival and even success remain possible for businesses that understand the hurdles and plan accordingly. Here, we check in with several experts on how best to approach brewhouse planning and purchases, given the current economic environment. Here’s what to consider if you’re starting up, adding on, or altering your brewhouse in 2023 or the near future.