The number of breweries in the U.S. continued expanding during 2016, even as the growth in sales at independently owned, smaller craft breweries began to slow during what insiders in the industry acknowledge is a challenging time.

A new record number of breweries, 5,301 of which 99% are defined as being craft breweries, were operating as of the end of 2016, said the Brewers Association, a trade group representing the industry. Over 800 breweries of different types opened and less than 100 closed in 2016.

The craft beer market share increased to just over 12.3% from its level of 12.2% during 2015, following a number of years of increases that were far more robust.

Craft production increased by only 300,000 barrels during 2016 to reach an annual production of 24.6 million, following four or more years of much larger increases.

The era of growth of 18% is finished, said an economist who works with the association.

Craft breweries are considered to be independently owned companies that produce from 15,000 to 6 million barrels per year. Growth rates said the association, become harder to reach over time due to an industry maturing and markets becoming more saturated.

In addition, acquisitions by bigger companies, including MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev have taken a number of businesses of the list of craft breweries in the U.S.

For example, in 2016, the reclassification took off more than 1.2 million barrels in production that would have otherwise counted toward craft beer totals. With those barrels added back in, production of craft beer would have increased over 6%.

Regardless, the continued increase is an indication that consumers are still searching for beers that are fuller flavor without taking into considering ownership.

Production of craft beer has close to tripled from its 2009 figure of 9.1 million barrels.

AB-InBev acquired nine craft brands in the U.S. including Karback Brewing, while MillerCoors acquired four. Constellation Brands and Heineken have each acquired one craft brewery based in the U.S.

Because of such consolidation, it is not likely that craft brewing would achieve its goal of a share of 20% of the overall beer market before 2020.

The majority of people today in the U.S. live less than 10 miles from a minimum of one brewery, with the vast majority being very small. That includes 3,130 microbreweries or more than 59% of the total.

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