The State Of Craft Beer In America
You’ve heard the term “craft beer” and I’m sure a great many of you have had the pleasure of at least sampling a few of these beverages. If you’re a casual tippler, you might have given it a thumbs up, or maybe you berated whoever suggested the foul liquid tainting your taste buds.
What you may not have known is that the “spiced banana wheat” (yes, it’s a thing) beer you just tried was actually brewed by and multi-billion dollar conglomerate bent on dominating the world beer market. Then again, maybe it was brewed by a guy who just got his microbrewery off the ground after countless hours toiling in his garage to get the recipe just right.
Welcome to the world of brewing, 2017 style.
Meanwhile, the roots of craft brewing were beginning to grow in garages and sheds across America, as every day Americans realized they could make their own beer and pretty damn tasty beer at that. Some of these folks decided to start their own breweries, and names like Jim Koch from
Boston Beer and Fritz Maytag of Anchor Brewing were etched into the history books.
25 years ago, there were 284 breweries in America. As of this writing, there are over 4000, and they are beginning to put a real pinch on the traditional big brewers. The number of tap handles in bars across the nation has risen, and the offerings more diverse. This has created fierce competition for shelf space, and those billion dollar conglomerates have taken notice. With money and the power of distribution, they have taken a two-pronged approach. First, they created faux craft beers that looked like they have come from a small brewery. Beers like Blue Moon (Coors) and Shock Top (AB-Inbev) were specifically brewed and packaged to steal some craft beer thunder, but they are brewed in the same factories as Coors Light or Bud, and many times use lesser quality ingredients than their craft counterparts.
The second attack has come by the way of acquisition. Along with many others, regional favorites like Devil’s Backbone in Virginia, Ballast Point in California and Founders Brewery in Michigan have all been bought out by huge corporations. If we use history as a guide, I believe we can expect these breweries to trim their product lines to a few popular and profitable beers, production moved or expanded, and eventually, recipes changed to make the beer cheaper and more profitable.
All that said, craft brewers are popping up across the nation at a rapid pace. Of course, not all will survive, and perhaps some aren’t even very good. Small, independent and craft does not always mean good, quality or sustainable. As the saying goes, just because you CAN brew beer doesn’t mean you SHOULD… or maybe it should just stay a hobby.
In the coming weeks, I’ll be using this column to review some beer, educate readers about styles and flavors, and suggest food pairings. I’ll also compare some big name offerings to some independent brewer’s offerings. In the end, no matter what I or any beer lover says, drink what YOU like. Beer is about the experience, maybe hanging out with friends or just savoring a cool lager on a hot day relaxing in your backyard. Cheers!