The number of U.S. craft breweries is the highest it's been since the late 1800s. But this time, their market is a little bigger. Growing international demand for fashionable American booze is boosting exports for small-time brewers. 

Last year more than 3,000 breweries were operating in the United States, according to data from the American Brewers Association, a nonprofit trade group that represents small and independent craft brewers.

U.S. Breweries The number of U.S. breweries hasn't been this high since the 1870s. Photo: American Brewers Association

“The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a local brewery,” Bart Watson, the group’s chief economist, said in a public statement, adding that he expects to see rates go up.

These beers are becoming more popular with the locals, but they’re also finding a market farther from home.

“Exports of American craft beer continue to expand in the international market, reflecting craft brewing’s overall success as an industry,” Bob Pease, chief operating officer of the nonprofit trade association, said in a statement.

Beer exports Beer exports increased last year. Photo: American Brewers Association

Craft beer export volume increased by 49 percent globally in 2013, representing more than 282,000 barrels worth roughly $73 million.

In Italy, U.S. brands are popular, but but the smaller breweries tend to have a business advantage. “Demand for [American craft beers] is a widespread phenomenon in Italy,” said Paola Montiglio, who imports beer in Italy for Spain-based IGAN. “It’s a very fashion-conscious market.”

U.S. export volume increased 46 percent in Western Europe last year, according to ABA data.

“There are more than 500 artisanal brewers in Italy [but] they often struggle to meet demand, while American craft breweries are more reliable,” Montiglio said. Mass-produced brands such as Coors Light are also popular, but Coors pulled out of the Italian market a few years ago. “American beers are a fashion. I get asked for Coors every day, but they [Coors] just don’t want to come back.”  

Europeans aren’t the only ones interested. Canada is still the largest market for U.S. brews, but sales to Asia have seen the biggest recent jump.

Last year shipments to Singapore increased 379 percent and rose 150 percent to Hong Kong.

Jason Koehler, owner of the DevilCraft restaurant in Japan, also represents over a dozen American microbreweries in the country. “American craft beer has been available for a long time in limited quantities, but only began growing in popularity when the number of dedicated craft beer bars started to grow,” he said in a recent interview.

“After restaurateurs realized it could make money for them as a drinking and dining concept, it really started to pick up,” he said.