Beer Town: Untapping the metro Atlanta year in beer

Supply chain challenges, rising cost of goods made 2022 tough year for craft breweries
The canning line at Bold Monk Brewing in Atlanta needs both cans and CO2 to package beer. Both were in short supply during 2022, adding to a challenging year for breweries. COURTESY OF BOLD MONK BREWING



The canning line at Bold Monk Brewing in Atlanta needs both cans and CO2 to package beer. Both were in short supply during 2022, adding to a challenging year for breweries. COURTESY OF BOLD MONK BREWING

The Brewers Association recently released its annual Year in Beer report for 2022 with the headline, “Mixed Signs of Recovery.”

Among the data, more than 9,500 breweries operated in the United States in 2022, and there were 550-plus brewery openings and 200-plus closings.

Many of the trends the Brewers Association noted echoed the winners and losers around Atlanta, as small local brewpubs and taprooms generally fared better than micro and regional breweries that rely on distribution.

Supply chain issues, including shortages of carbon dioxide and aluminum cans, were an ongoing problem for many breweries.

“The supply issues are changing, but they’re still there,” New Realm Brewing co-founder and brewmaster Mitch Steele said. “The biggest issue brewers are dealing with right now is that the price of malt has gone up 50%. That’s a huge jump. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Steele confirmed that IPAs were still the top sellers, but lagers were having a resurgence.

“I was out in Denver, Colorado and Portland, Oregon earlier this year, and all these old-school hoppy ale brewers had close to a 50-50 mix of ales and lagers,” he said. “To me, that’s pretty significant. And I think we’re seeing that here. Just look at Halfway Crooks. I think the popularity of that brewery is very telling.”

Of course, beer continues to fight for shelf space in an increasingly competitive market that includes everything from spiked seltzers and canned cocktails to hard kombucha and zero-proof booze.

“Seltzer is starting to fade a little, but it’s definitely continuing to erode the strength of craft beer,” said Green’s Beverages beer buyer Adam Tolsma. “It’s still White Claw, Topo Chico and Truly, and it seems like they make a new flavor every week. Even Sierra Nevada is making a hard kombucha now.”

Monday Night Brewing chief operating officer Rachel Kiley echoed that thought. “This year we saw a lot of breweries diversifying their offerings,” she said. “Monday Night added a food program and a liquor program. Our consumer base doesn’t just want to drink craft beer, they also want to try artisan pizza and drink cocktails.”

Overall, Kiley thinks 2022 was a tough year for most craft breweries, with Georgia tracking trends around the rest of the country. And she added, a lot of the industry forecasts for 2023 are painting a discouraging picture.

“It’s not all doom and gloom, but I do think it means that craft breweries in Georgia are going to have to continue to diversify to stay afloat and stay relevant,” she said.

Three Taverns founder and CEO Brian Purcell agreed that supply chain issues and the increasing cost of materials were making it difficult for production breweries to turn a profit.

“The industry is having a tough time right now,” he said. “Beer was about 60% of alcohol sales in 2019, now it’s about 42% of alcohol sales. So you have to get creative, and you have to be willing to make changes.”

Among the changes in 2023, Three Taverns will offer fewer seasonal and limited-release beers and focus more on year-round beers. But there will be more taproom releases. And Three Taverns will offer its first variety pack, dubbed the Adventure Pack.

“I think we’re well positioned for 2023,” Purcell said. “We were mostly flat in terms of total volume that went out the door in 2022. But flat doesn’t work for us. We were built for growth. Hopefully the market will turn around in the next couple of years and there will be significant growth again.”

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