How the craft brewery business provides a broader 2023 business model

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By Michelle van Schouwen

Entrepreneurs can garner intelligence from the incredible success of the craft brewery industry across the United States, which now boasts 4,750 craft breweries and counting. Craft brewers may develop in one of six distinct formats: microbrewery, brewpub, taproom brewery, regional brewery, contract brewing company, or alternating proprietor. In this article, we’ll focus on microbreweries, brewpubs, and taprooms, because their retail/storefront appeal points to preferences and habits of some young adult consumers. So, what can an entrepreneur learn from the craft brewery phenomenon?

-First, the obvious: Local craft breweries offer unique, high quality beer and (sometimes) cider offerings that allow the customer not only to enjoy exploring but also to be in on something new.

-They often provide seasonal and rotating offerings that keep customers coming back.

-Smaller breweries are a refreshing change from big chain restaurants and even local bars. They have a fresh, young vibe and customer base.

-They provide a gathering place for millennials, Gen Xers, and others to be social at a reasonable cost. (White male millennials and Gen Xers comprise about 44% of the craft beer market overall, and are the majority of retail craft brewery customers.) Note that Gen Z hasn’t totally bought into the brewery craze, so craft breweries of all types are watching their preferences and buying habits closely.

-Often, a brewery will have a collaborative relationship with local food trucks, sometimes having different trucks out front on specific days of the week. Breweries often feature live music. (Note that some brewpubs and taprooms offer their own food.)

-Breweries are often dog-friendly, a plus for those who bring their pets everywhere they go.

On the other hand…

-Breweries often don’t last. The chief economist at the Brewers Association cites a 24% failure rate for microbreweries since 1980.

-Small breweries, like many other businesses, are currently struggling with supply chain and cost issues. According to Brian Crawford, CEO of the Beer Institute,”Between unnecessary and harmful tariffs imposed on aluminum, to continued supply chain disruptions, to dubious tax loopholes for hard liquor products, the beer industry faces significant challenges.”

In summary, studying the customer-facing part of the brewery business reveals a good deal about a portion of the young adult demographic in the United States. They are inspired by local, custom, casual, friendly, and reasonably priced offerings. They enjoy the convivial, open, pet-friendly community feel of a good microbrewery, brewpub, or taproom. For the entrepreneur, the business model offers ample room for collaboration and partnership.

These facts are valuable not just to those starting a brewery or a restaurant. They also offer an inside look at how some key consumers choose products, leisure, and alliances. In an era of clear disaffection with large corporations and run-of-the-mill products, the local and regional craft brewery represents the opposite – and this is, by and large, a winning formula.


Michelle van Schouwen is principal of Q5 Analytics, providing advocacy and communications for climate change mitigation and adaptation. For 32 years, Michelle was president of van Schouwen Associates, LLC (vSA), a B2B marketing company. In 2017, she sold vSA. Michelle is available for speaking engagements on topics including her work on climate crisis mitigation and Florida coastal water issues. She speaks to business and student groups about marketing launches and entrepreneurship and works with start-ups to support their development.

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