What does Hop Take have in common with Lisa Vanderpump? Nothing, really. Except: The British reality star and proprietress of a disturbingly lucrative empire of obscene restaurants, was born on Sept. 15, and so, too, was this beer-industry column.

Tomorrow is Hop Take’s first birthday, folks. (In lieu of gifts, please send VinePair editor-in-chief Joanna Sciarrino emails lavishing praise and honor upon its name.)

What a year! Since launching this column on the Ides of September 2022, we’ve published 51 columns. We would’ve published 52, but I came down with Covid-19 somewhere along the way. Don’t think it doesn’t bother me to miss out on completing the perfect calendar. But still: These reports average around 1,300 words apiece (though as you may have noticed, they’re getting shorter and tighter; make sure you mention that to Joanna), which means that your humble Hop Take columnist has published some 66,000 words on the United States’ beer industry over the past 12 months under this banner alone. (Full disclosure: The banner itself existed in a different form before I took it over, making this “first birthday” a little bit of a fudge job, but who are you, the birthday police?) And that’s not even counting the “Hop-ocalypse Now” and “Ups/Downs” sections that appear beneath the main story every week. Let’s see Lisa Vanderpump do that!

Get the latest in beer, wine, and cocktail culture sent straight to your inbox.

Would you believe that when VinePair first asked me to take the Hop Take helm, I was worried there wasn’t enough beer-business news to substantiate a weekly column? It’s true. Also true: I had no idea how to write a weekly column. (Hence, the thundering length of the first half-dozen installments. Thanks for bearing with us.) It’s intimidating, coming up with something to say about beer every week that’s neither stupid nor stale, then actually saying it. Believe it or not, “takes” take work, and there are only so many hours in the week and functional synapses in my brain.

But we’re doing it! Thanks in no small part to your tips — which, by the way, reader, you should absolutely keep sending me at [email protected], anonymity guaranteed! — Hop Take has broken news, analyzed trends, and made plenty of jokes at hard seltzer’s expense. In my inaugural entry, I told you to “[g]o elsewhere for beer reviews, warmed-over press releases, and lifestyle puffery,” promising instead “coverage, and commentary about the business and culture of beer.” I think we’ve met the mark, and I hope you agree.

I could go on navel-gazing and back-slapping for another few hundred words at least. But a better use for the rest of this column is highlighting some of the remarkable developments in the U.S. beer industry over the past 12 months. (Or “L52” or “TTM,” as my various and beloved scan-data sugar daddies might say.) It’d be impossible to reprise them all here, but upon scrolling through the archives, a few major trends really jumped out.

“Total beverage” is here

It’s become almost cliché at this point to note that the cultural and legislative firewalls that have long separated beer from the broader beverage marketplace are crumbling. They really, really are! The convergence, spurred on by the hard seltzer boom late last decade, the pandemic, and lots of other factors, has triggered fascinating crossover moves from Big Soda, tribalist and/or collectivist impulses among beer distributors, and a budding land rush on hard tea, among other things. Spirits be stealin’ share, and trade groups are fighting. Looking ahead, I’m keeping a close eye on how the heavyweight players from all disciplines negotiate the increasingly crowded off-premise channel, and how regulators react to increased mainstreaming of this “everything is everything” trend.

Artisanal is tired, commodity is wired

The momentum in the mass market right now is behind simple, straightforward flavor. That has favored mass-produced entrants, which are competing for less sophisticated throats at volume. “Beer-flavored beer” isn’t doomed, but the category can’t depend on historic hegemony to drive future sales anymore. Different firms are handling this shift with varying degrees of success, and economies of scale are a more accurate indicator of success than they have been in the 12 years I’ve been covering the industry. This puts mid-sized craft breweries, which lack the scale of the segment’s biggest players and the romance and agility of its smallest, in an especially tough spot, and I don’t envy them. It’s no mean feat, subsuming a craft brewery’s foundational emphasis on process and provenance within a value proposition of, say, a citrus cooler that drinks like alco-juice. But that’s where the growth is right now, and’ll continue to be, I think. So that’s the challenge.

Macrobrewers are getting back to basics

The hangover has fully set in on the U.S. brewing establishment after its craft-brewery buying binge last decade. Constellation Brands has fully given up on its billion-dollar boondoggle; Anheuser-Busch InBev’s entire portfolio of craft firms appears to be available for sale to the highest bidder. Heineken seems focused on 0.0, Silver, and other things that are not named “Lagunitas.” Molson Coors isn’t really doing much of anything with its own craft brewing roster at the moment (par for the course, amirite?!), but it is shouting its flagship light lagers’ latest sales figures from the rooftops whenever given half the chance. Overall, the beer industry’s biggest players looked a lot less interested in the struggling craft segment this year than they did even half a dozen prior, stacking their chips behind flavored malt beverages, spirits-based canned cocktails, and other growth segments instead. This could be good news for craft breweries. But only if they can find new ways into increasingly ombibulous drinkers’ fridges — and into retailers’ coolers chock-a-block with the latest what-have-yous. Hmm.

Consolidation rules the nation

Mergers and acquisitions certainly aren’t a new trend in the brewing business, but even since I took the reins here, things seem to have morphed a bit. We’ll probably never again see another ABI/SABMiller mega-merger, or even ABI-Grupo Modelo (which is a shame, because that one yielded the beer industry’s funniest lawsuit in recent memory.) And as noted above, big-on-small craft-quisitions — just go with it — are a thing of the past. But we saw a lot of private equity roll-ups and small-on-small mergers in the beer category since last September. With growth flat or declining, I see no reason that wouldn’t continue. Except maybe soaring interest rates.

All right, that’s enough for now. Thanks so much for reading over the past 12 months. Keep those tips coming to [email protected]. You’ve been a wonderful audience, really. Good night, good luck, and don’t forget to tip your servers — especially if you’re reading this in a Vanderpump restaurant. Sounds like they really need it.

🤯 Hop-ocalypse Now

Conventional wisdom dictates you never say the quiet part loud, particularly not when trafficking in a vice that’s currently attracting lots o’ regulatory scrutiny. But Boston Beer Co. co-founder, chairman, and forever-mouthpiece Jim Koch has never been one for conventional wisdom. Last week at the Barclays Consumer Staples Conference, the Massachusetts magnate proclaimed that “[t]he liquor guys figured something out before the rest of us did, which is don’t encourage people to drink your product per se, make it sweet and fruity.” Yes, Trojan-horsing hooch down gullets with saccharine flavors is the mainstream beverage-alcohol industry’s game of late… but would you give the game away if you were currently making bajillions on Twisted Tea? I simply would not!

📈 Ups…

Non-alcoholic beer makes up a whopping 86 percent of the N/A beer/wine/spirits segment, itself now a whopping $510 million off-premise market, per NIQBell’s Brewery’s first big line extension under Kirin/Lion Little World/New Belgium Brewing will be a winterized Oberon offshoot… Brooklyn Brewery and Hoplark, a popular hop water, struck a strategic partnership

📉 …and downs

The Beer Institute has tax-paids down 6.8 percent through July Oregon’s hop industry (third only to Idaho and Washington) pared back acreage 11 percent year-over-year in response to craft beer’s slowdownBill Gates and the Gates Foundation invested $95 million in ABI stock, after buying $940 million of Heineken stock, weird… If the government shuts down Sept. 30, the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) will, too…

This story is a part of VP Pro, our free platform and newsletter for drinks industry professionals, covering wine, beer, liquor, and beyond. Sign up for VP Pro now!