Craft beer market impacts emerging Michigan inputs industries

Factors related to growth in craft beers may create a market for high-quality local hop and grain products.

U.S. craft beer growth hit double digits at 12.6 percent in 2010 according to Mintel Group Ltd., a large international marketing research firm. The Brewers Association defines craft brewers as small, independent and traditional in their methods. Mintel Group Ltd., in its Beer: The Market-US-December 2011 report dates the trend to 2003 and projects its continuation through at least 2016.

To what market factors does Mintel attribute this growth? Rich and unique beer flavors which are appreciated by people of all ages, especially among drinkers age 21-34. The care and art of small brewers viewed as not being mass-produced. The local food movement allows the customer to purchase beer from a brew pub or area business. Also, the continued growth of meal consumption away from home creates an expanding beverage market, such at restaurants and bars.

Is there a place for Michigan hops and grains in the expanding craft beer industry?

Existing and potential producers seem to think so judging by the 100 or so who participated in recent Michigan State University hop field day and workshop sessions. Hops are currently being produced under Michigan growing conditions. Several commercial scale hop planting, picking and processing facilities have been established or are under development in Michigan.

Michigan-produced barley and wheat is currently being used by some in the brewing industry to produce brews with all Michigan-grown ingredients. Farmers have a long history of growing malting barley for the brewing industry in Michigan. Malting barley acres peaked in the early 1980s at about 20,000-30,000 acres in the Thumb of Michigan. These acres declined when the malting and brewing industries left southeast Michigan.

The growth of the craft brewing industry has increased demand for locally grown and malted grains. Currently most grains used by Michigan brewers are malted outside of state. Michigan-based small-scale malting facilities could provide another opportunity for new business development using local grains to produce specialty malts for the craft beer industry.