The Future of Craft Beer Starts in Massachusetts

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PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- Massachusetts beer drinkers are among some of the most discerning and nuanced in the country, which is putting them in high demand among the nation's brewers.

Its Northeast Corridor neighbors in New York (where Michgan's Bell's Brewery and St. Louis-based Schlafly made their Northeast debuts) and Philadelphia (the only Northeast town with access to Oregon's Deschutes and Colorado's New Belgium, by way of Delaware) can make similar claims. However, recent developments in Massachusetts suggest that it's the toughest market to crack out of the lot.

Back in April, Pottsville, Pa.-based D.G. Yuengling and Son stormed back into Massachusetts after a nearly 20-year absence. It rolled into more than 6,000 packaged goods stores, liquor stores, bars and restaurants in the state and increased the reach of a brewer that already produced 2.7 million barrels of beer in 2013. Among U.S.-owned breweries, that's second only to the 3.4 million barrels produced by Massachusetts' own Boston Beer Company and its Samuel Adams and Traveler brands. Long a high-quality, low-priced alternative to big brewers' light lager in the Mid-Atlantic and New York metro area, Yuengling steered clear of a market that long swore allegiance to Samuel Adams and recently revived Narragansett.

In early July, the San Antonio-based Gambrinus Company that owns Trumer Pils and BridgePort Brewing Company announced that its Spoetzel Brewery would begin distributing its Shiner brand to Massachusetts. The longtime Texas favorite had already worked its way up I-95 through New Jersey, New York, Connecticut and Rhode Island, but is finally cracking the Massachusetts market nearly 105 years into Shiner's existence.

So why are these brewers suddenly so comfortable in Massachusetts? Well, for one thing, it's a big market with a somewhat small brewing presence. The Brewers Association counted 57 breweries in Massachusetts in 2013. That's up from 45 in 2011, but still ranks it 16th in the nation in brewery count and 24th in breweries per capita with just 1.2 breweries per 100,000 people. The more than 329,000 barrels it produced last year rank it 12th in the nation, but the 2.1 gallons it produces per drinking age adult ranks 17th.

Perhaps most surprisingly, the 26.2 gallons of beer consumed by each drinking-age Massachusetts resident ranks just 40th in the nation. However, if you want to open up New England's biggest beer-drinking markets, Massachusetts is a fine place to start. It gets a lot of visitors and draws a lot of beer from neighboring states including Maine (No. 10 in consumption with 34 gallons per resident), Vermont (No. 7 with 35 gallons) and New Hampshire (No. 2, with a whopping 43.9 gallons).