The craft brewing industry had a banner year in 2011.

U.S. craft brewers posted a 13 percent increase in volume production and a 15 percent increase in retail sales compared to 2010, according to a preliminary report this week by the Brewers Association.

The overall beer market had a 1.32 percent volume decrease in 2011, said Paul Gatza, director of the association, which is based in Boulder, Colo.

For the first time, craft brewers surpassed a 5 percent share of the beer market. In 2007, the market share was 3.8 percent.

"It's becoming increasingly clear that with the variety of styles and flavors to choose from, Americans are developing a strong taste for high-quality, small-batch beer from independent brewers," Gatza said.

In 2011, craft brewers represented 5.68 percent of volume of the U.S. beer market, up from 4.97 percent in 2010, with production reaching 11.47 million barrels. Estimated sales were $8.7 billion, up from $7.6 billion in 2010.

Examples of craft beer growth are easy to find in Wisconsin.

New Glarus Brewing Co. and Ale Asylum in Madison are undergoing multimillion-dollar expansion projects.

New craft breweries or brewpubs include Port Huron Brewing Co. in Wisconsin Dells, Hydro Street Brewing Co. & Eatery in Columbus and the House of Brews in Madison.

Pigeon River Brewing Co. in Marion is scheduled to open in May. One Barrel Brewing Co., 2001 Atwood Ave., is set to open in July.

Nationally in 2011, there were 250 brewery openings and 37 closings. There were 1,989 breweries, up 11 percent from 2010 and up 39 percent from 2005.

Craft brewers employed approximately 103,585 workers in 2011, the Brewers Association said.

"We saw rapid growth in brewery openings last year, particularly with microbrewery startups, and these numbers are poised to rise even more in 2012," Gatza said. "In February 2012, we already topped 2,000 operating breweries, a truly remarkable milestone."

The association will publish its full 2011 industry analysis in May, highlighting regional trends and sales by individual breweries.

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