About The Beer Road.
This blog is about what’s in that “other” beer aisle. The one a bit less traveled, the one without the Buds and Millers of the world. For some, the aisle is a familiar place. But for many others, the aisle is curiosity, and the beer there is unfamiliar to them at best. Many times, I’ve seen folks standing in it, glancing at the six packs on this aisle, examining their colorful packaging and often more colorful names, unsure of what’s really there in front of them. A friend of mine, not really a beer person herself, is often amused by these names – ones like “Old Leghumper” and “Arrogant Bastard” – and likes to call them out. Aloud, mind you. Right there in the aisle, while chuckling a bit. It’s something we’re trying to work on.
So. Just what is in that aisle after all? Of course, we’re talking about more than colorful names and packaging. We’re talking about craft beer. And in many stores today, the craft beer sections are growing, along with the interest and curiosity in them. According to some well publicized sales figures, more and more people are trying craft beer. More restaurants are including craft beer among draft selections and even the recent Discovery Channel series “Brew Masters” focused on the well known craft brewery Dogfish Head and their beers. It seems that more and more folks are making it over to that aisle, and are curious. Unsure of what they’re really looking at, though, at least some eventually move on to their usual selections. I’ve watched that happen too. If you’re not quite sure of what’s in that aisle, it’s understandable that you might pass it up. It can be tough to know what you’re truly looking at, but in the end, that’s the purpose of this blog. So back to the original question – what exactly is craft beer anyhow?
You could go strictly by the numbers. The Brewers Association, a member based organization which looks out for the rights of craft brewers in America and also puts on the Great American Beer Festival each year, created a craft brewer definition that has very much become the industry standard. It is broken down into three distinct areas – “Small”, “Independent”, and “Traditional”. First, that the brewer is “small” means that their annual production is six million barrels of beer annually, a number that only one craft brewing company will most likely reach in the coming years; two, that the brewer is “Independent”, meaning that less than 25% of the brewery is controlled or owned by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer; and lastly, that the brewery is “Traditional”, in that the beer the brewery is most known for, their “flagship” beer, is an all malt beer, or that the brewery has at least 50% percent of its volume in either all malt beers or beers in which adjuncts are used to enhance the flavor of the beer instead of lightening it. These three areas of definition are all important in their own way, but to let’s start with those production and sales numbers, and add some perspective. While six million barrels of beer might sound like a fair amount, only Samuel Adams (Boston Beer Co.) stands to close in on that mark in the future. Currently, Sam Adams stands around the two million barrel mark, and even well known Sierra Nevada is hovering around one million. Just two or three spots down are breweries playing in the five hundred thousand or so range. The point is, these are the largest of American craft breweries by a long shot. According to the Brewers Association, all of the craft brewers in America accounted for just over nine million barrels of beer sold, according to 2009 numbers. To truly put this in perspective, and compare it to a company we’re all familiar with, a 2007 financial report from Anheiser Busch listed the number of barrels sold at 128 million.
But you could define craft beer by starting with, and of course tasting, the beer itself. This is where I have to mention the blog’s only disclaimer (so far): I’m not necessarily here to change anyone’s minds. If you love your macro brewery beer – your Bud Light, Coors, or whatever – fine. But let me tell you my story. Roughly two years ago, I began getting into craft beer because I tasted a couple of examples, and suddenly I was drawn in by what beer could be: flavorful, interesting, and obviously something that someone, somewhere, put a tremendous amount of work into. Sure, it’s difficult to discuss craft beer without someone veering towards the line at which the major brewery product goes toe to toe with the craft one, and the topic of quality comes into play. Let me simply point out the obvious. Craft brewers are in it to make excellent beer. They aren’t going for the beer with the ability to appease the greatest amount of folks possible. After all, many are former home brewers at heart, a mix of both scientist and artist, and would generally like to simply blow their own mind, and then yours, with their latest offering. Many are students of the beer world and its history, hence the dedication to explore so many of the worlds’ beer styles – of which there are as many as fifty or more instead of just one or two. At the heart of their work are beers with bold characters, big or delicately designed flavors, subtle nuances, and that full sensory experience that’s possible when holding one in your hand. So if you’re reading this, I would imagine that you’re at least curious about this huge, interesting, and delicious world of craft beer. So am I. It’s the reason I started the blog. Now, keep in mind, there are a lot of beers out there. Variation dominates here. Each and every beer is different from the next, even if they’re described as being the within the same “style”. So when diving into that world, you may not instantly love everything you get your hands on. This is completely fine and it’s to be expected. If one particular American Amber Ale is pretty good, the next might really knock your socks off. Again, this is the fun part of craft beer, discovering those slight differences between one beer and the next. It’s a happy situation that I fondly refer to as “research”. True, the blog started as my own journal through the craft beer world. But as I discover craft beer myself, I hope it can help other craft beer curious folks navigate through it as well. Even if you’re somewhat familiar it and have already begun your journey, I hope the information here can offer some additional help. Either way, I’ll see you in that “other” aisle.
- The Beer Road