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Craft Beer Learns Big Brewers' Summer Games

Stocks in this article: BUD TAP SAM

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- It took craft beer a while to come around to it, but it's finally embraced summer beer season and the lighter, more available brews that go with it.

Craft beer has never had trouble brewing wheat beers, light summer ales, Kolches and other refreshing summer beers for the season, but the small brewers always seemed to stop just shy of turning down the alcohol content and bulking up their packaging. It's tough to blame them, considering summer beer season used to look a lot like this:

That's kind of the opposite of what small craft brewers have been going for, but it's tough to argue with the results. When the 30-packs show up on shelves and the beer coolers come out of storage, the whole industry gets a boost. Last year, the beer industry produced between 14.5 million and 16 million barrels for the first four months of the year. By the time Memorial Day came around in May, that number was up to 17.5 million. That million-barrel bump from April to May has been constant since the recession, but was a 4 million-barrel leap in 2008.

That's around the time craft beer's window into the Big Beer-driven summer beer market opened. The Beer Institute, a beer industry organization based in Washington, notes that as craft beer gained market share during the recession, the overall industry kept posting losses -- including a 1.4% drop as recently as last year. The Beer Institute compared unemployment rates with average monthly beer shipments during the same period and found overall shipments began decreasing steadily in 2009 and continued through June of 2012 in direct correspondence with job numbers.

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