What is Craft Beer?: Definition & History

What is Craft Beer?

Craft beer is all about returning to the old ways of beer making. Just like there are thousands of different wines made by wineries in different regions, there are just as many varieties of craft beers. Read on to learn about the definition of craft beer and understand why it has become a popular movement in recent years

What is Craft Beer?

What is the Definition of Craft Beer?

Craft beer is handcrafted beer made in small batches by a brewpub, microbrewery or regional craft brewery. Depending on what combination of ingredients is used and how the beer is made, the flavor can be anything from light and refreshing to dark and bitter.

What Constitutes a Craft Brewery?

Although the definition will vary, a craft brewery is typically small, independently owned, and uses traditional methods and ingredients.

How Does a “Craft Brewer” and a “Big Brewer” Differ?

Big beer producers, like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors, typically make bland-tasting and mass-produced beer, which is designed to appeal to the widest range of tastes possible. Focusing more on their bottom line than the flavor of their beers, big beer companies will speed up the fermentation process with enzymes and might substitute corn or rice for malt barley in order to lower costs. In contrast, craft beer is often made in small batches over time, using quality ingredients in order to produce a full-bodied taste.

What is the Origin of Craft Beer?

Beer in the US Has a Long History

Although beer production in the US dates back to the Native Americans, American beer stems from the brewing traditions of English, Dutch, and German immigrants. Originally brewed primarily at home and in taverns, beer production in breweries did not become widely established until the early 1800s. However, by the end of the nineteenth century, there were more than 4,000 breweries in the country.

Prohibition Forced Breweries to Close

Lasting from 1920-1933, prohibition shut down alcohol production across the country forcing almost all breweries to completely shutdown.

Bigger Breweries Squeezed Out the Competition

After prohibition was repealed, a number of breweries came back into business, but into the 40s and 50s, the smaller producers began to get squeezed out by the bigger companies.

Sharp Decline by the 70s

By the end of the 1970s, there were only 44 brewing companies in the US. The variety of beer produced by the traditional styles and methods of beer making were disappearing in favor of mass-produced beer that tasted similarly across all brands.

Home Brewing Hobby Leads to Microbreweries

Due to the limited selection of American beer available at grocery stores, home brewing became a popular hobby during the 1970s. Home brewing led some enthusiasts to start their own microbreweries and brewpubs in order to introduce the public to more flavors and styles of beer.

Microbreweries Set the Foundation

These microbreweries and brewpubs established the foundation for the craft beer craze in the 1980s, and the popularity of microbrews continued to grow in the early-to-mid-1990s up until the present.

“Microbrew” Becomes “Craft Beer”

Eventually the term “microbrew” fell out of style and was replaced with the word “craft beer.” In order to be considered a microbrewery, a brewery must produce a limited number of barrels of beer. However, many of the breweries that were originally microbreweries stopped being “micro” as they grew, which led to the rise of the term “craft beer.”

Cities Where the Craft Beer Trend Took Off

Although now popular across the county, the first few US cities where the craft beer trend began to take off were:

  • Portland, Oregon
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Portland, Maine
  • Seattle, Washington
  • San Diego, California
  • San Francisco, California

What are Some Big Name Craft Breweries?

According to the Brewers Association, there were over 2,400 craft breweries in the US as of July 2013. Below is a list of a few of the top-selling breweries:

  • Boston Brewing
  • Sierra Nevada
  • Shiner
  • Alaskan Brewing
  • Dogfish Head
  • Saranac
  • Deschutes
  • Harpoon
  • Long Trail
  • Shipyard
  • Victory

What Makes Craft Beer Popular?

It Tastes Better

The popularity of craft beer continues to grow as people acquire a taste for full-flavored beer. Many people prefer the taste of craft beer over the watery lagers mass marketed by big beer companies.

It Has a Higher Alcohol Content

Craft beer also has more alcohol than mass-marketed beer. Most craft beers have 5-10% abv (alcohol by volume), whereas beer sold by big beer companies typically has around 2.5% abv.

It Goes Well with Food

Craft beer and fine cuisine also go hand in hand, which is why craft beer has become so popular in the food industry. The complex flavors of craft beer have gained a strong following among fine diners. Many gastropubs and upscale restaurants that serve gourmet cuisine are now offering craft beer menus to enable diners to experiment with unique taste combinations.

Giving Craft Beer a Try

What is craft beer? In a nutshell, it is full-flavored beer made with high-quality ingredients in small batches by independent brewers. With increasing availability and the number of brewpubs and craft beer festivals on the rise, the craft beer trend continues to expand. If you are growing tired of the flavorless lagers that crowd supermarket shelves, try a uniquely flavored craft beer the next time you go out for a brew, and perhaps, you will understand the reasons behind the craze.