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More Beer Niches and Buyouts Coming In 2014

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- If you love craft beer, imports and cider, boy are you going to love 2014.

If you like beer in general, you're probably not.

While the Beer Institute industry lobbying group notes that January beer sales were up 0.7% from the same month last year, the fact is that beer sales overall are still on the way down. The Treasury Department's Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau reported a 1.5% decrease in overall beer sales and a 2.6-million barrel loss in beer production. That's basically akin to shutting down Boston Beer's Samuel Adams brand (which produced 2.7 million barrels in 2012) for an entire year.

Yet the folks at Moody's decided to look on the bright side when assessing the big beer picture for 2014. Maybe U.S. beer consumption by volume has dropped in four of the past five years, thanks largely to Anheuser-Busch InBev and SABMiller/MolsonCoors joint venture MillerCoors selling a lot less light lager. Maybe that same downturn reduced beer's share of the overall alcohol market from 55% in 2000 to 49% in 2012. But that's not so bad when craft beer volume increased by an estimated 15% last year, right?

"Major brewers Anheuser-Busch Inbev and MillerCoors have captured more than 18% of the U.S. craft market combined with brands like Blue Moon, Shock Top and Goose Island as they try to counter declining mainstream volumes," Moody's Senior Vice President Linda Montag says. "And the big brewers likely will participate in the consolidation of the craft segment, which includes more than 2,700 small breweries."

Oops. Yep, Moody's is suggesting that not only will big beer buy up more craft brands as A-B just did with Patchogue, N.Y.-based Blue Point, but that those craft brands are actually craft. They've determined that craft beer is now 10% of the market by volume and 15% by sales, but they reached that number by including folks the Brewers Association craft beer industry group and many craft brewers themselves don't enjoy associating with.

That includes Pennsylvania brewer D.G. Yuengling & Son, Magic Hat/Pyramid parent company North American Brewers and Redhook/Widmer Brothers owners Craft Brew Alliance. More importantly, it considers A-B's Shock Top, Land Shark and Goose Island brands craft, as well as MillerCoors' Blue Moon and Leinenkugel. It also expects the big brewers' craft brands to continue gaining craft market share as they expand.

Combined, the five brewers mentioned above make up 23% of Moody's craft beer market, which the firm only expects to consolidate further if suitors such as Constellation Brands make good on their vows to buy up craft brands of their own. Oh, and if craft brewers such as Boston Beer and foreign brewers such as Duvel keep buying up brands including Coney Island Craft Lagers and Boulevard Brewing.

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