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Whew. Is the Craft Beer Finally Dying Down?

By Mike Jordan at the Wall Street Journal

Photo by Christin Hume / Unsplash

The long-building craft-beer boom is showing signs of slowing down.

Craft beer’s popularity has risen nationwide for more than a decade, and breweries have become a calling card for up-and-coming neighborhoods and communities, giving residents and visitors new places to gather and enjoy a taste of their towns. But in 2023 the smallest number of new breweries in over a decade will open, the Colorado-based trade group Brewers Association predicts.

The bar-stool talk among beermakers and their customers is whether American cities have reached craft capacity and how much anyone wants yet another take on the IPA. About 9,500 breweries operate in the U.S. now, the association says.

Highland Brewing Co. of Asheville, N.C., opened in 1994. It advertises itself as the first legal brewery to launch since Prohibition in the Appalachian city of 94,000 residents. Now it’s one of over 50 in the area.

The business has gone from a basement brewery to a hilltop 40-acre destination that produces more than 40,000 barrels annually and generates around $15 million in revenue, according to President and Chief Executive Leah Wong Ashburn. She says she worries for the industry and how crowded the field has become.

“We’re still a collaborative industry, but the competition is now such that I think it’s overwhelming for consumers who haven’t been into craft beer,” Mrs. Ashburn says. “If they walk by the cooler and see 1,000 choices, they have no idea what to do.”

In Oregon, not everyone is convinced that having so many breweries makes the craft beer community buzzworthy. Pete Dunlop, a 34-year Portland resident and beer aficionado, says that as the volume has ballooned, the quality has plummeted. He points to the microbrew mecca of Bend, Ore., a town with 102,000 residents and over 30 breweries.

“It used to be you could hit all the breweries in a day or two. Try that now and you need a week,” Mr. Dunlop says.

He sees breweries looking to stand out now with experimental flavors and techniques that often miss their mark. He recalls recently having tried one hazy IPA from near Portland with notes of coffee and coconut juice.

“It was so weird, just a bizarre assault on your palate,” he says.

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