In the early 90s Dr. Patrick McGovern uncovered beer residue clinging to the inside of a pottery jar in western Iran. The beer dated back to about 3500BC; chemical evidence for the long held belief that people have been drinking beer for a long time. Beer has been brewed domestically for over a millennia. Sometime around the 6th century, Benedictine monasteries began appearing in Europe. It was part of the mandate of these monasteries to provide food and drink to passing pilgrims. The water of the age was not thought sanitary; with rivers and streams being used for sewage disposal. Beer was fermented and considered sanitary, so everyone drank it. The monks made an art of brewing. They kept track of their recipes, ingredients, and made specialty equipment for the brewing process.
With the exception of drunken monks pumping the English countryside with specialty beers, brewing was exclusively a domestic production until the Industrial Revolution. Larger brewers began opening, organizing and dedicating money and resources to the food and protein sciences responsible for pasteurization, yeast isolation, and biochemical knowledge as a whole. Refrigeration processes greatly improved and widespread distribution of previously local beers became possible.
Today many of those original industrial giants have joined forces to create multinational corporations with worldwide distribution. Today, beer is a global business. These are the Top Five Largest Beer Brewing Companies in the World.
5. China Resource Snow Breweries Ltd.
Based in China
Produces 106.2 million hectoliters per year
5.4% World Beer Production
A joint venture between SABMiller and China Resources Enterprise, China Resource Snow Breweries Ltd., known simply as CR Snow, is the largest brewing company in China. The Beijing based brewery opened its doors in 1993 and already dominates with 22% of the market share in China. China Resources Enterprise is a conglomerate with focus on retail, beverage, food processing and distribution, textiles, and real estate. Owning 51% of CR Snow is one of the enterprises major assets. The other 49% of CR Snow is owned by SABMiller, a multinational brewing and beverage company based in London, UK. Snow Beer is the primary brand for the CR Snow brewery, and currently the top selling beer in the world, even though it is sold almost exclusively in China. Another part of the success of CR Snow has been in their highly profitable acquisitions. For example they acquired Blue Sword in Sichuan, and the Lion Nathan breweries in Jiangsu in the early 2000s. From 1993 to 2014, CR Snow acquired more than 80 breweries, making CR Snow the fastest growing beer brand in China, and the fifth largest brewery in the world.
4. Carlsberg Group
Based in Denmark
Produces 120.4 million hectoliters per year
6.2% World Beer Production
Carlsberg is a Danish brewing company founded in 1847 by J.C Jacobsen. Jacobsen was an industrialist, a philanthropist, and an avid art collector. He sought to make beer making an industrial activity based upon sound scientific principles. He founded the Carlsberg Laboratory, an organization known for advancing biochemical knowledge particularly in the field of protein science. The flagship brand at Carlsberg is Carlsberg, after Jacobsen’s son Carl. Jacobsen and his son had a tumultuous relationship which was later documented in a popular Danish TV drama series, Bryggeren. The two made their peace and, much like his father, Carl Jacobsen, became an avid art collector, creating one of the largest private art collections of his time. The Jacobsen’s are truly part of Denmark’s modern history.
The Carlsberg Group merged with Orkla ASA in 2001, becoming one of the largest breweries in the world. In addition to Carlsberg brand beer, the group also brews Tuborg (which they acquired in 1970), Kronenberg, and hundreds of beers of smaller production and limited locality. Carlsberg has about 40% of the Russian market share.
Carlsberg’s tagline, “Probably the best beer in the world,” was used from 1973 until 2011, when it was replaced by, “That calls for a Carlsberg.”
3. Heineken International
Based in Belgium
Produces 171.7 million hectoliters per year
8.8% World Beer Production
Heineken International is a Dutch brewing company founded in 1864 by Gerard Adriaan Heineken. Gerard Adriaan bought a brewery known as De Hooiberg (the haystack) and began production of the pale lager. His purified water, malted barley, hops, and yeast recipe won several awards in those early years, and the brand grew. A second brewery opened in Rotterdam in 1874, and as of 2014 Heineken International owns over 190 breweries in over 70 countries. The original Amsterdam location of the first brewery is preserved as a museum known as The Heineken Experience.
Heineken was known for years as a family business. Gerard Adriaan’s son Henry Pierre Heineken managed the company from 1917 until 1940. Around the time of Henry Pierre’s retirement, grandson Alfred Henry Heineken began working for the company. Oddly, Alfred Henry “Freddy” Heineken, was kidnapped in 1983 and released on a ransom of about 21 million US dollars. The story was released on film as “De Heineken Ontvoering” with Rutger Hauer playing Freddy.
Aside from being nabbed, Freddy was a driving force behind the global expansion of Heineken. In 1978 Heinkeken merged with its largest competitor Amstel, the largest of Heinkenen’s deals until the acquisition of Scottish and Newcastle in 2007. The latter deal secured Heineken’s position as among the top five brewer’s in the world.
Heineken International brews and sells over 170 beers, and is known for the slogan of their flagship beer, “Heineken refreshes the parts other beers cannot reach.” With breweries in over 70 countries, it seems likely that Heineken is reaching farther.
Based in the UK
Produces 190 million hectoliters per year
9.7% World Beer Production
SABMiller is a brewing and beverage multinational company based in London, UK. Gold was discovered near Johannesburg in 1886, triggering a gold rush and an influx of foreign workers. SAB was founded as Castle Brewery in 1895 in an effort to cater to the miners and prospectors of Johannesburg in South Africa. It wasn’t until 1956 when Castle Brewery bought Ohlssons and Chandlers Union Breweries, that SAB, South African Breweries, was named as such. In 2002, SAB purchased The Miller Brewing Company based in North American from the Altria Group, and was hence forth known as SABMiller. SABMiller now has acquisitions and operations in 75 countries across the globe. The SABMiller portfolio contains over 150 brands, beverages such as Carling Black Label, Milwaukee’s Best, Castle, and Grolsch. SAB is also one of the largest bottlers of Coca-Cola in the world. They are committed to “green practices” for both the sake of profits an social responsibility. They use lightweight bottles, containing 30% less glass, designed to reduce waste and energy during production.
1. Anheuser-Busch InBev
Based in Belgium
Produces 352.9 million hectoliters per year
18.1% World Beer Production
Anheuser-Busch InBev, abbreviated as AB InBev, is a publicly traded company and the world’s leading brewer. The company boasts over 200 beer brands such as, Budweiser, Beck’s, Skol, Bud Light, Alexander Keith’s, the list goes on. Like the rest of these megacorps, the company is an amalgamation.
German-born soap salesman, Eberhard Anheuser, bought a struggling Bavarian Brewery in downtown St. Louis in 1860. When Anheuser’s daughter married Adolphus Busch in 1861, the Anheuser-Busch abbreviation was born. Aldolphus Busch was an industrialist. He was the first American brewer to use pasteurization and refrigerated railroad cars, substantially expanding the distribution capabilities of Anheuser-Busch products. In the late 1800s, Busch promoted his products with giveaways and contests. Bottle openers, corkscrews, postcards, and lithograph prints were distributed to bars across the USA. Many of these items came to represent a kind of traditional Americana, and are hearty collectibles to this day.
During prohibition, Anheuser-Busch marketed near-beer, malt beverages with little or no alcoholic content. During this time, Aldophus Busch’s son August Anheuser Busch Sr., took over the company and began pushing back against the prohibitionists. Anheuser-Busch was able to survive prohibition through their product supplies, near-beer, and ice cream.
In 2008, after much negotiation, InBev (a Belgium based Interbrew and Brazilian Ambev merger) purchased Anheuser-Busch for almost 52 billion US. The Anheuser-Busch InBev company is the world’s largest brewer. After the acquisition, Anheuser Busch went under substantial restructuring and cost cutting. While criticisms can be made that since the InBev takeover, employee benefits have been cut, and arguments can be made that the beer is being watered down, profits have never been better.