SF Beer Week Opening Celebration 2012 | Photo © Brian Stechschulte

The Brewers Association revealed a set of staggering statistics on Monday this week. Despite a weak economy, dollar sales of craft beer increased 14% in the first six months of 2012, while brewers also pumped out 12% more beer by volume over the same time frame. In addition, the number of breweries across America has climbed to 2,126, which is more than this country has seen since 1887. On top of that, there are 1,252 breweries in the planning stages. If your jaw isn’t resting on the floor yet, check out this graph.

Paul Gatza, the director of the Brewers Association put these numbers into perspective: “Beer-passionate Americans are opening breweries at a rate faster than at any time since the day Prohibition ended for the beverage of moderation. There is nearly a new brewery opening for every day of the year, benefiting beer lovers and communities in every area across the country.”

How does the Bay Area fit into all this growth? Since January of 2011, 16 new breweries have arrived, including Almanac Beer, Triple Voodoo Brewing, Southpaw BBQ, Southern Pacific Brewing, Pacific Brewing Laboratory, Divine Brewing, HenHouse Brewing, Lucky Hand Brewing, Altamont Beer Works, DasBrew, Elevation 66 Brewing, Heretic Brewing, High Water Brewing, Schubros Brewery, Calicraft Brewing and Strike Brewing. Every time I finish a story about a new brewery, I hear about another one ready to launch. By the end of 2012, we can probably expect four or five more to join the growing list. On top of all that, many longtime local breweries are expanding.

Is California’s glass full?

All this growth begs more than just a few questions and concerns. I’m not going to ring alarm bells or pull out a doomsday calendar, but I do wonder how breweries will set themselves apart in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace? Can they just rely on making great beer?

Better promotion is one option, which many breweries need to take more seriously, but they also need to foster their community. That includes both fans and their surrounding neighborhood or town. Advancing shared values, responsibilities and a sense of common ownership in the product have been at the heart craft beer since the movement began. It distinguishes craft beer from the colossal corporate brewers.

I have local brewer Collin McDonnell to thank for stressing this point and a few others during a mini stump speech on Twitter last week. McDonnell currently works as a brewer for Drake’s Brewery and launched HenHouse Brewing with a few friends in Petaluma earlier this year. In a span of ten minutes he punched out eight thought provoking tweets.