The US craft beer industry saw a 3.4% growth in production in 2003, according to figures from the Association of Brewers this week.

"2003 was a difficult year for the beer industry, but it was another solid year for craft breweries," comments Paul Gatza, director of the Association of Brewers. "Overall consumption was down, and import's growth rate of 1.9% was the lowest figure for import growth in 12 years. What this means is that craft beers are increasingly making headway in the areas of market share and consumer enjoyment."

Across the industry there were 81 brewery openings and 73 closings.

The 3.4% growth rate in 2003 parallels the 3.4% growth rate posted by the craft beer industry in 2002.

Gatza said: "One difference is the 2003 growth rate occurred in a year when the overall beer market in the US declined due to extreme weather, a sluggish economy and war concerns. The fact that the craft beer industry grew at a greater rate than imports for the first time since 1996 shows a shift in the choices being made by the American consumer."

In 2003, the craft beer industry produced 6,653,461m barrels of craft beer in the US.