Whilst the big international brewers have begun investing into some key Craft brands so as not to miss out on the sector at the other end of the scale, smaller to mid-sized brewers are beginning to feel the pinch and the first casualties have been seen. Auctions of nearly-new brewery equipment have commenced and no doubt, some of those still in expansion phase will pick up some bargains.
Ten years ago, the 'new' brewers that were already established in the US were thinking the market had probably reached saturation at around two-thousand breweries. But start-ups continued, reaching (peaking?) last year at just over six-thousand breweries in the US. Now it seems, consolidation has begun. Small brewers, that are stable and content at that size, are probably safe (except from buy-out offers maybe!) and those that have grown and reached a stable size where they are covering costs are probably also safe. As long as the quality is there!
Those still hoping to grow outside of local markets are going to find things very competitive now, but at all scales only those putting out high and consistent quality beer will thrive and survive.
In the UK we've now grown to over two-thousand breweries (or technically, recovered to pre WW1 numbers!) and competition is beginning to intensify. We have a different distribution landscape this side of the pond and brewers producing cask beers have noted the problem with expanding when the quality control goes out of your hands. London brewers also noting the different price expectations beyond the M25 in particular and deciding that Cask doesn't pay.
Wherever you are, quality is key and that's easier to control in keg than cask. CAMRA's revitalisation project was well timed. With so much great quality Craft beer available in keg format the threat to cask ('real') ales has not been as intense since Watneys was on the rampage!