Craft Beer Shines at Beer Wholesalers Convention

Bob Barnes - My report from NBWA in Vegas.

The 78th annual National Beer Wholesalers Association Convention and Trade Show convened at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas Oct. 11-13 and attracted nearly 4,000 industry representatives.

Spokane, Washington’s No-Li Brewhouse was named the National Brewery of the Year by the National Beer Wholesalers Association, an award that recognizes brewers who not only produce great beer, but also build strong partnerships, provide education, offer support to their distributor customers and more.

On the last day, the convention was abuzz with news of AB InBev’s purchase of SABMiller. The scuttlebutt among the craft beer reps was that the move would be a motivator to rally beer lovers around their local breweries as the big boys try to shore up their market share losses with actions such as the infamous 2015 Super Bowl ad. In regards to this merger, Brewers Association Director Paul Gatza wrote, “The American public continues to respond [to big beer] by sampling more new craft brewed beers and buying more of their favorites. People may see [the merger] as a time to rally around their local brewery. Those societal trends won't change because of this deal.”

The convention was a chance for distributors to research all that’s available in the world of brewing, while the trade show was a showcase of breweries from all over the world, representing nearly every beer style, 300 different exhibitors displaying their wares, with 84 breweries pouring more than 500 different beers.

The most congested spaces on the trade show floor were among the tables of the 31 craft breweries represented in the Brewers Association-sponsored Craft Brewers Pavilion, and the rest of the trade show appeared to be dominated by artisanal beer sporting plenty of flavor. No surprise there, as the craft beer industry continues to be the fastest growing segment in the entire US beverage alcohol industry. The evidence is that in 2014, for the first time ever, craft beer accounted for a double digit share of the total beer market with an 11% volume share of the marketplace (up from 6% in 2012) and growth of the craft brewing industry in 2014 was 18% by volume and 22% by dollars (compared to growth in 2012 of 15% by volume and 17% by dollars). Additionally, as of June 30, 2015, the number of operating breweries in the U.S. was at 3,739, an increase of 699 breweries over the same time period of the previous year.

This was my ninth time attending the trade show, which has become noticeably dominated by craft beer choices, a trend that has grown exponentially over the past 16 years. If this trade show is any indication, it would appear that more and more distributors are embracing the craft beer segment as it slowly but surely chips away at the pie, securing a larger piece of its share of the beer market.

The NBWA is a major beer biz convention that wisely comes to Vegas every other year and alternates in other cities (sans trade show). For more information, visit the NBWA’s website at

In Part 2 I’ll share new beer releases and interesting and intriguing flavors I encountered on the trade show floor.

The Author:

Bob Barnes is editorial director of The Las Vegas Food & Beverage Professional, regional correspondent for Celebrator Beer News and writes the Top 10 Beer lists for He welcomes your inquiries and can be reached via e-mail at

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author's alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC, its affiliates, or its employees.

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