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Do you know where your beer really comes from? In the early 2000s, about a dozen breweries produced the majority of the beer in the world. Today, just five conglomerates produce over fifty percent of all the beer in the world. You'll recognize the names of some of these companies, like MillerCoors, but you may not realize the true reach of these behemoth brands. The largest beer companies in the world own multiple craft brewers (or, rather, former craft brewers) in addition to the massive brands you probably already recognize.
Anheuser-Busch InBev is the undisputed heavyweight champion in the beer industry since it was established via a hostile takeover in 2008. Founded in 1852, Anheuser-Busch survived prohibition to become the largest brewing company in the United States by 1957. The Belgian- and Brazilian-owned conglomerate InBev purchased a controlling stake in Anheuser-Busch in 2008, and the new union overtook SABMiller as the largest beer conglomerate in the world. In true big-business fashion, they later purchased SABMiller outright. AB InBev is now the parent company to hundreds of international beer brands; including Budweiser, Corona, Stella Artois, Beck's, and Hoegaarden.
Dutch brewing company Heineken has been among the top five largest beer companies in the world for much of its 150 year history. Heineken is now the largest beer company in Europe and the second largest internationally. Besides its famous flagship brew, Heineken International is the parent company of over 170 beer brands produced by 125 breweries in 70 countries. These brands include Amstel, Foster's, and one of the best Mexican beers to drink anywhere, Tecate.
China Resources Snow Breweries
You probably didn't expect the number three spot on this list to be a company you've never heard of, but China Resources Snow Brewerie—"CR Snow" for short—is a true powerhouse of a brewing company, primarily thanks to its flagship Snow beer. American and European readers may not recognize this brand at all, but it is immensely popular in its native China, maintaining about a quarter of the market share for beer in the country. Despite being distributed almost exclusively in China, Snow sells over 66.5 million barrels (that's 16.5 billion pints) every year. This makes it the biggest-selling beer in the world by volume.
The Carlsberg Group is the second largest beer company in Europe. North American beer drinkers are likely familiar with its eponymous flagship brew, but Carlsberg didn't grow to become one of the top five largest beer companies in the world just by selling one brand of beer. Many of the most popular beers in Europe and Asia are owned by the Carlsberg Group. These brands include Baltika (the most popular beer in Russia) and Utenos Alus, which produces many popular beers in northern Europe.
Molson Coors Brewing Company
If you haven't already figured this out, the inner machinations of all these massive beer conglomerates are nearly impossible to decipher. MolsonCoors is a good example of this, as its history in relation to AB InBev and SABMiller is long and convoluted. MolsonCoors formed in 2005 as a merger between American brewing company Coors and Canadian brewing company Molson. Later, MolsonCoors partnered with SABMiller in a joint venture called MillerCoors to coordinate marketing for their primary brands (some of the best shower beer brews, Coors and Miller beer). After AB InBev purchased SABMiller in 2016, the future of MillerCoors was called into question until AB InBev agreed to divest themselves of all Miller beer brands. So AB InBev owns SABMiller, but MolsonCoors brews and distributes Miller brand beer. Simple enough, right?
Tsingtao Brewery Group
Tsingtao Brewery is the second-largest brewery in China after CR Snow. It's main advantage over its competition is a growing international image, with sales and awareness in Europe and North America rapidly increasing over the past decade. The company's flagship pale lager, simply called Tsingtao Beer, is sure to be on the menu at just about any high-end Chinese restaurant in the United States. In addition to this globally-distributed beer, Tsingtao produces a number of other brews for local distribution.
Asahi Group Holdings
Continuing our tour of widely successful Asian beer companies, the Asahi Group is the largest producer of beer in Japan. Headquartered in Tokyo, Asahi's popularity skyrocketed in 1987 after the brewery introduced its "Super Dry" beer. The company produces a number of other beers, but Super Dry remains its top seller in Japan and abroad. Unique among most of the brewers on this list, Asahi also has a soft drinks division, which produces a wide number of non-alcoholic beverages like sodas, teas, and coffees.
Beijing Yanjing Brewery
Following in the footsteps of other brewing companies like CR Snow, the Beijing Yanjing Brewery has grown to become one of the top ten largest beer companies in the world despite having little to no distribution outside of China. The reason for this localized distribution, by the way, is that CR Snow and Yanjing are state-owned enterprises. This is why the publicly-traded Tsingtao is much more internationally known. In addition to its central range of pale lagers, Yanjing produces many raw materials for the state, such as yeast and grains.
Kirin Holdings Company
Kirin beer is one of the most popular beers in Japan, following closely behind Asahi with 35 percent and 38 percent market shares, respectively. Alongside Asahi Super Dry, Kirin Ichiban is widely distributed to international markets. The Kirin Holdings Company also has stakes in a number of other breweries and distilleries, including the Myanmar Brewery and the Four Roses Distillery. As if these diversified holdings weren't enough, Kirin also has holdings in everything from the restaurant business and real estate to logistics and engineering companies.
Castel Group (or Groupe Castel if you're feeling French) is a French beverage company. Castel's main area of focus is actually lower-end table wines in France, but it also controls one of the largest beer companies in Africa. The company's most popular beers are Castel and Flag, which together account for about a quarter of the market share for beer in the entire African continent. One other notable fact is that Castel Group, which is nearly 70 years old, is still run by its founder, 92-year-old Pierre Castel. Regardless of where you get your beer from though, there's a high probability you're already drinking one of the top 10 beers of all time.