What is Craft Beer? A Growing American Beer Culture

With a strong presence across the 50 states and the District of Columbia, craft breweries are a vibrant and flourishing economic force at the local, state and national level. As consumers continue to demand a wide range of high quality, full-flavored beers, small and independent craft brewers are meeting this growing demand with innovative offerings, creating high levels of economic value in the process. – Bart Watson, Staff Economist for the Brewers Association

I had the opportunity to chat with Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director at the Brewers Association, Publisher of CraftBeer.com and certified Cicerone (beer sommelier).  The Brewers Association represents about 3,000 American craft brewers, which is the majority of brewers in the United States.  So what exactly is craft beer?

A craft brewer is defined as beer produced at an independently-owned brewery that makes about 6 million barrels (a barrel is 31 US gallons) per year.  The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery in every region of the United States.  Not only does this help to advance craft beer culture, but this industry collectively contributes almost 34 billion dollars to the U.S. economy (as of 2012), employs about 108,440 people directly at breweries and brew pubs, and over 360,000 people via brewing community-related jobs.  Emerging markets in the craft beer industry are strong, as laws are evolving and making it easier for craft breweries to open their doors.  However, there’s already a booming craft beer market in the U.S. Pacific Northwest.  About 30% of the world’s hop supply comes from this area, which has optimal weather and growing conditions for cultivating hops.  There are about 50 beers styles made in US that encompass 15 style families including belgian, dark lagers, brown ales and many more.

If you’re planning a summertime barbecue, brown ales are great place to start.  Also recommended are Scottish style ales, which have malt forward flavors and sweetness similar to barbecue and sours beers, which have acidity that helps flavors in grilled roasted and smoked meats shine even brighter.  Lower acidity in beer helps to calm down richness and saltiness of food, so you can taste more of the other flavors.  When pairing craft beer with food, it’s important to find flavor harmonies between your beer and barbecue sauce, as well as your meats and fish that are grilled, roasted or smoked.

Julia, a longtime home brewer, admits that there are lots of approaches to drinking beer but her favorite tip is to tell people to pour their beer into a glass. “The consumer will enjoy the full aromatics and flavors that the brewer intended,” says Herz.  If you’re a beginner beer drinker, Herz recommends paying attention to the wine and other spirits you favor. She believes that craft beer picks up where wine leaves off; lots of choices and different beers for different occasions is the best way to approach your choice of beer. Try a craft beer today!



Photo Credit: drinks.seriouseats.com