Stylin’ & Profilin’: What Is a Craft Beer?

Stylin’ & Profilin’ is a brief look at different beer styles that will help you learn whether they’re right for you. Ultimately, words can’t truly turn you on to a solid craft beer. You have to smell, taste, and savor each sip to truly discover if it’s one you’ll come back to in the future. But the background info obtained in this post won’t hurt anything either.

Craft BeerFor this installment of Stylin’ & Profilin’, I decided to take things back to basics. In hindsight, I probably should’ve led off the series with this piece. But to hell with doing things traditionally! As long as they get done, right?

For all the talk we do about craft beer these days, it’s important to understand what constitutes a craft beer. The term ‘craft beer’ itself encompasses a large number of different beer styles, some with lineage tracing back centuries and others such as the Double or Imperial IPA dating back just a few years. Beers of the craft variety represent a dedication to creativity, innovation, and passion for one’s ‘craft.’

By definition, a craft beer is a beer with a distinctive flavor, produced in smaller quantities than that of the heavily-marketed, mass-produced beers. Craft beers make up a very small part of the overall beer market in the United States, but that small part is extremely significant given the trends of recent years. Over the past couple decades, bland light lagers have suffered a decrease in overall sales. In general, beer is flat or shrinking in overall growth, but the craft beer segment is growing by leaps and bounds. To give a short explanation as to why, people started realizing the ads on their TVs and radios didn’t make the beer taste good, and they finally wanted more. And craft brewers delivered.

According to the Brewers Association, to be considered “craft” breweries, they must fall into one of these three categories:

  • Small: Annual production is less than 6 million barrels
  • Independent: Less than 25% of the brewery is owned by non-craft brewer (such as AB InBev)
  • Traditional: The majority of the brewery’s output consists of “beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation”

In simplistic terms, the macrobreweries of the world, the ones who mass-produce the light lagers and pilsners that many are distancing themselves from, use adjuncts like rice and corn in the production of their beer. These adjuncts actually take away from the overall taste of the beer, thus making it up its regularness/blandness, but enable it to be produced on a mass scale. On the flip side, craft brewers use higher quality, and often time unique, ingredients that add character, body, and taste to their product.

The big beer companies have used political influence and deep pockets to keep their product in front of the masses for years. Their focus was more on selling the activities surrounding beer instead of the beer itself. This ploy worked for a long time, but beer consumers are making the shift towards flavor and innovation instead of catchy, repetitive advertising.

And speaking of advertising, craft brewers have fought an uphill from a marketing perspective as well. While their product may deliver more flavor, they simply don’t have the advertising budget the big guys have. Major marketing dollars have helped the big guys position their product and brainwash consumers into believing the mass-produced stuff is better.

Craft brewers rely more on word-of-mouth advertising and, in more recent years, the power of social media and online communities, to build loyalty in their brands. Through constant innovation, a steadfast dedication and unwillingness to compromise, and a shift in the way consumers establish loyalty with products and companies, craft beer has undergone an uber-surge that has the big guys scrambling.

Craft beer has introduced beer drinkers to chocolate stouts, peanut butter porters, beers brewed with various fruits, and an appreciation for a wide variety of floral and citrusy hops…just to name a few. The mass producers have tried to replicate what craft brewers do, but when the quality of ingredients, and more importantly, the passion, is lacking, this is not an easy task.

You can define craft beer in a variety of different ways, whether you take the technical angle or the humanistic one. Either way, craft beer has redefined the beer industry and will continue to do so going forward. When you fully understand how these beers have evolved and what it’s taken to reach your grasp, the true definition flows with every sip you take. That’s something the mass producers, try as they might, will never be able to recreate.

 

 

 

Jason Cercone

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