Like Paul Revere setting out on a particularly wild ride, shares of Boston Beer are off to the races this morning -- up 14% as of this writing. The whip goading the horse: an update from the company, on trends in earnings and "depletions growth ."

Don't let that item throw you, by the way. "Depletions growth" is a term of art in the beer industry. It refers to the rate at which beer, already shipped from a producer like Boston Beer to a distributor, leaves the distributor's warehouse en route to end users. I.e., drinkers.

So now that we know what depletions growth is, let's find out what it is... for Boston Beer.


According to Boston Beer's press release, full-year depletions in 2012 are running anywhere from 11% to 13% higher than they were in 2011. What's more, depletions are expected to grow 10% to 15% in 2013. Management confirms that shipments are "increased" this year, and further down the supply chain, sales look similarly strong -- strong enough that Boston Beer just boosted its earnings projections by approximately 11% over prior expectations, to anywhere from $4.30 to $4.60 per share.

Growth galore...
The good news doesn't stop there. If you take the midpoint of Boston Beer's growth projections, this year's 12% rise in depletions is soon to be followed by about a 12-point-five percent rise in 2013. In other words, growth is accelerating, not slowing down.

That's great news for Boston Beer shareholders. In a nutshell, if sales (er, "depletions") alone are growing at 12%, this means that analyst projections of 9% long-term earnings growth for the company are almost certainly short of the mark. And if sales growth is accelerating, this suggests strong demand and little prospect of price declines. So earnings growth should certainly be higher than 12% -- not lower.

That could be good news for folks other than Boston Beer. Because if beer consumption is growing, generally, Anheuser-Busch Inbev and Molson Coors could benefit from that trend as well.

...and growth-poor
On the other hand, not everyone's a winner here. Unless you subscribe to the theory that Americans are drinking more, period, then a shift to higher beer consumption could well indicate a shift away from hard liquor and wine.

So does good news for Boston Beer equal bad news for Beam and Diageo ? It just might. That news, if it happens, will be the next shoe to drop.

Boston Beer's Samuel Adams brand helped to redefine beer and kick off the craft beer revolution in the United States. Success breeds competition, though, and while just a few years ago Boston Beer had claim over most of the craft beer shelf, today the field is crowded. Can Boston Beer rise above the rest, or will it be squeezed between small local breweries on one side and global beer giants on the other? To help you decide, we've compiled a premium research report filled with everything you need to know about Boston Beer's risks and opportunities. Just click here now to find out whether Boston Beer is a buy today.

The article Why Boston Beer Shares Are Off to the Races originally appeared on Fool.com.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no positions in the stocks mentioned above. The Motley Fool owns shares of Boston Beer. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Beam, Diageo plc (ADR), Boston Beer, and Molson Coors Brewing Company. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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