Even though the term “craft beer” is often misused, it generally refers to a beer that has been brewed by a microbrewery. Microbreweries are small, independent beer producers that yield relatively low volumes of beer annually.
However, defining “low yield” might be difficult because there is no universal agreement on what constitutes a “small-scale operation.” The beer community is still having debated about this issue.
But by and large, “craft beers” refer to brews produced by home-spun or family-run businesses rather than those produced by multinational conglomerates. This is beer from a brewery where “craftsmanship” is a central focus.
When a huge corporation buys out a craft beer brewer, the question arises of whether or not the beer can still be classified as “craft.”
In many circumstances, the beer ceases to be a ‘craft’ product because of its large production. It doesn’t mean the beer is of lower quality, though. Rather, it indicates that it is mass-produced by an industrial brewery rather than a small-batch brewhouse.
But many macro-breweries continue to market their products under the “craft beer” umbrella.
Craft Beer In The US
You couldn’t have picked a better time than now to be a craft beer fan in the US. American consumers today have access to a wider variety of beer brands and types than those of any other country.
There will be over 9,000 breweries in the United States by the end of 2022, each responsible for a different brand of beer.
There have been ups and downs for these breweries, but without the patronage of beer aficionados, they would never have become known as the manufacturers of the world’s best beer.
Many popular craft beers today had their humble beginnings in the basements or garages of home brewers.
Craft breweries were reviving not only the beer industry but also rundown or forgotten parts of cities.
Because of the Brewers Association’s recognition of the value of craft to local economies, they’ve designated a special seal for these handcrafted brews.
They developed this idea because of the growing trend of macro-breweries buying up smaller ones to dominate the market.
These days, craft beer drinkers are picky because they can now learn more about the brewing process and make more informed decisions.
Supporting small and independent businesses counts, and drinking local is crucial. This is much as it was when the English first started brewing in this New World.
This period will go down in history as a pinnacle of beer production. Now, with more beer options than ever before, brewing has essentially come full circle from its 17th-century beginnings.
The vast majority of the beer sold commercially is produced by professional brewers located in your area.
The popularity of microbreweries continues to rise because of social hubs where locals can catch up with one another over a cold one—what a time to be alive.
A Brief Lesson In American Craft Beer History
Brewing is an ancient art form, as you well know. Alcoholic beverages created from corn were even being fermented by Native Americans. In 1612, in New Amsterdam, the first brewery in the United States was established.
There was an influx of breweries in the United States in the 19th century, and new immigrants brought with them a wide variety of beer styles.
German immigrants had the greatest influence after introducing Lager to American territory.
Small American breweries suffered greatly during Prohibition in the 1920s, and even when it was ended in 1933, many never fully recovered. As a result of growing industrialization, light lager came to dominate the beer market, and the range of American brews gradually declined.
As of 1978, there were 89 breweries in the United States, 45 of which were independently owned.
Some dedicated homebrewers got to work right away after Congress approved the practice that year, bringing back classic beer styles.
Jim Koch and Ken Grossman will go down in history as two of the founders of the craft beer business.
They produced two craft industry mainstays in the form of Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada.
Both businesses got their starts as small breweries that prioritized quality over production volume.
As of today, though, things are different due to a new regulation that defines “craft” breweries as those that produce less than six million barrels of beer annually.
Styles of Popular Craft Beers In The US
American Pale Ale
Among the wide varieties of beer available, American pale ale is extremely well-liked. It’s also the beer style that did the most to spread the word of the craft brewing movement.
The hops flavor in American pale ale sets it apart from many European craft beers. Some would say it’s more like traditional British ales. Moreover, its robust flavor complements sugary and fruity tastes like toffee and grapefruit.
The most widely consumed style of American craft beer is India Pale Ale, hence the prevalence of the abbreviation “IPA” in bars devoted to the style.
Lagers & Pilsners
Lager is the style most commonly associated with mainstream beers like Bud, Carlsberg, Heineken, and Tiger.
The Czechs have their own take on the style called Pilsner, which is hoppy. In general, these are crisp and refreshing, with a strong bitterness from spicy, vegetal hops.
Porters & Stouts
Porter and stout are two types of craft beer that are fairly similar to one another.
The introduction of porters to Britain in the late 1700s and the growth of the British Empire throughout the 19th century both contributed to the industry’s prominence in the country.
The term for a very strong porter quickly became abbreviated to “stouts,” from “stout porters.” Both of these styles are thriving right now, thanks to the rise of the craft beer movement.
They are favored by many because of their bold and distinctive flavors.
Kolsch & Blonde
Craft beer styles like Kolsch and blonde can be traced back to southwest Germany. To make these, Pils or pale malt hops and yeast are used to create a light and refreshing flavor.
They spend several weeks maturing at low temperatures in the brewhouse to achieve a crystal clear beverage. The end product is a lager-esque brew with a hint of fruitiness from ale yeast.
Kolsch and blonde beer are perfect for folks first getting into craft beer because they are quite mild and easy to drink. You can’t go wrong with any of these craft beer varieties on a warm summer day.
Saison & Farmhouse
Belgium is also the cradle of the styles of Saison and Farmhouse Ales. It was thought that these beers were initially drunk in the 19th century.
These beers have risen in popularity in recent years as consumers of artisan beverages have placed a greater emphasis on social responsibility and environmental consciousness.
Saisons and Farmhouse Ales are the epitome of rustic sophistication. They have a dry but refreshing finish and an assertive yeast flavor with modest hopping.
Amber, sometimes known as “red” ale, is a light yet flavorful beer. Originating in the early days of craft brewing in the US, this style appeals to a wider audience by being approachable and well-balanced.
The West Coast was the first to embrace amber ale. Slowly but surely, it gained widespread adoption among the nation’s brewers.
Plus, if you’re interested in brewing your own craft beer, you can pull this off with relative ease.
It can range from moderate to strong, depending on personal preference and geographic area.
Red India Pale Ales are notorious for having more of a pronounced hop profile than their gold and brown counterparts.
Germany is the birthplace of a wide variety of craft beers, but one of the most well-known is Hefeweizen. This variety of craft beer has a distinctive wheat flavor, much like the American wheat ale.
Weirdly, the German version is often characterized as having a bubble gum or banana-like quality.
While both American Wheat Ale and German Hefeweizen have a concentration on wheat, the similarities between the two end there.
The yeast and hops used in production are the primary distinctions between these two craft beers.
Brown ales also have their roots in the 19th century. However, contemporary brown ales don’t have much in common with their original version.
Brown ales, according to many experts, are a product of the modern era because of the dramatic shift in flavor preferences that occurred between the centuries.
Also, regional flavors can vary wildly. In contrast to American brown ale, modern English brown beers are surprisingly subtle in flavor. They lack the roasted character that is common in American browns and instead focus on caramelized malt flavors.
Ciders & Meads
Mead is fermented honey. Cider is fermented apple juice. Although not beers, these drinks are common at craft bars and have many styles of their own (Braggot, Ice Cider, Acerglyn, Graf, Melomel, etc.).
They come in every conceivable form, from carbonated to still, dry to sweet, barrel-aged to funkily offbeat.
How To Choose Craft Beer
There are so many craft beers available, and choosing one can be overwhelming. Generally, the following are the factors that people consider when choosing their drink:
- Brewery / Brewery location
- Alcohol content
- Available in bottles or cans
- Pairs well with food
- Available on tap
Don’t put too much value in reviews. While experienced beer drinkers like to give double and triple IPAs good marks, I wouldn’t suggest them to most novices.
Picking out the brew for tonight’s party? You can make educated guesses about what your friends will appreciate based on their taste preferences.
It’s recommended that first-timers start off with something less intense and more subtle. Later, you can switch things up by introducing an IPA, stout, or wild ale. Barrel-aged stouts, on the other hand, tend to be a hit among wine and liquor drinkers.
If you still can’t settle on a beer, consult the bartenders or the brewers themselves for suggestions.
Folks from the brewing community are generally warm. And, of course, they’re enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge.
Is Craft Beer Better Than Mainstream Beer?
I’d have a tough time finding someone who thinks it isn’t! Though some people might turn their noses up at it, craft beer is far superior, just going by the love and care that goes into them.
Here are other reasons why craft beer wins:
In comparison to mass-produced beer, craft beer is more robust and flavorful. Craft beers from small, independently owned breweries are made with care and attention to detail, utilizing ingredients and formulas that have been perfected through time.
On the other hand, commercial brewers must use inexpensive ingredients to maximize profits. Craft beers from independent breweries are made in limited quantities utilizing time-honored methods and a dash of individual flair.
Conversely, commercial brewers rely on an automated production process, which results in beers of lower quality (albeit consistent).
Pasteurization kills the yeast and removes the proteins so that the mass-produced beer may be stored without going stale. The process strips beers of the primary ingredients that give them their distinctive flavor and aroma.
Commercial brewers can’t always provide the demand for variety among beer lovers. A commercial brewer’s motivation to generate a profit often results in the production of beers with a uniform flavor profile.
Craft beer is made for reasons of passion and variety.
All the companies producing craft beer started as laborers of love, with the goal of providing beer drinkers with something different from what’s available in the mass market.
Craft beers can range from 5% to 40% alcohol by volume in contrast to mass-produced brews’ 3% to 5%.
Craft beer is typically less expensive than its mass-produced version since it has more flavor and can therefore carry more alcohol.
To equal the alcohol concentration of an excellent craft beer in a drinking session, you would need to drink about five standard beers.
Drinking the popular brews is like giving money to the already wealthy multinational corporations. What’s more, there’s the markup that goes to cover the costs of transporting the product to you, the customer.
Buying locally-made beer is a win-win situation, as you get to show your support for a neighborhood enterprise and keep more of your hard-earned cash. And, of course, you get high-quality beers!
Consuming craft beer, as opposed to mass-produced beer, is more enjoyable on many levels.
Craft beer is more than merely a beverage; it’s the invention of passionate, independent brewers.
In addition to satisfying your thirst, it also conveys the brewers’ dedication to their work.
Craft beers, as opposed to mass-produced brews, typically have more descriptive information about the beverage right on the label.
Visiting the brewery where your favorite craft beer is made is another perk of buying locally.
You’ll get a more personalized and satisfying drinking experience as a bonus to learning more about the product’s history and production.
Where Should You Start?
Okay, you’re on board, and you’d like to try some craft beers. The following are the best craft brewers in the US. You’ll likely find their brews in liquor stores and some supermarkets. Of course, you can also sample their creations by ordering online.
- DG Yuengling and Son (PA)
- Boston Beer Co. (MA, DE)
- Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. (CA)
- Duvel Moortgat USA (CA, MO, NY)
- Gambrinus (CA, TX)
- Bell’s Brewery, Inc. (MI)
- CANarchy (CO, FL, UT, MI, TX)
- Artisanal Brewing Ventures (PA, NY)
- Stone Brewing (CA)
- SweetWater Brewing Co. (GA)
- Deschutes Brewery (OR)
- New Glarus Brewing Co. (WI)
- Brooklyn Brewery (NY)
- Matt Brewing Co. (NY)
- Gordon Biersch Brewing Co. (CA)
- Abita Brewing Co. (LA)
- Minhas Craft Brewery (WI)
- Stevens Point Brewery (WI)
- Great Lakes Brewing Company (OH)
- Odell Brewing Co. (CO)
- Harpoon Brewery (MA)
- Summit Brewing Co. (MN)
- Allagash Brewing Company (ME)
- Troegs Brewing Co. (PA)
- Georgetown Brewing Co. (WA)
- Three Floyds Brewing (IN)
- Athletic Brewing Company (CT)
- Rhinegeist Brewery (OH)
- Kona Brewing Co. (HI)
- August Schell Brewing Company (MN)
- Alaskan Brewing Co. (AK)
- Narragansett Brewing Co. (RI)
- Rogue Ales Brewery (OR)
- Kings & Convicts Brewing (CA)
- Flying Dog Brewery (MD)
- Long Trail Brewing Co. (VT)
- Lost Coast Brewery (CA)
- Revolution Brewing (IL)
- Surly Brewing Company (MN)
- Ninkasi Brewing Co. (OR)
- Creature Comforts Brewing Co. (GA)
- 21st Amendment Brewery (CA)
- Maui Brewing Co. (HI)
- Saint Arnold Brewing Co. (TX)
- Scofflaw Brewing Co. (GA)
- Shipyard Brewing Co. (ME)
- Left Hand Brewing Company (CO)
- Modern Times Drinks (CA)
- Fiddlehead Brewing (VT)
- North Coast Brewing Co. Inc. (CA)
Related Reading: Craft Beer vs Beer: What’s The Difference Between These Brews? – Check Them out Here
How do you get the most out of your craft beer? Be sure to savor every sip of your drink. Examine the hue, clarity, and haziness of the liquid, inhale the aroma, and take mental note of how it feels in your mouth and on your tongue before swallowing.
Beers can evoke a wide variety of sensory experiences, including those associated with coffee, candy, resin, bread, pine treats, toast, fruits, herbs, your favorite dessert, and more!
It’s true that some beers are easier to drink than others, but they all have different textures and flavors.
Some will have a thin, watery texture, while others will have a consistency more akin to juice, cream, or syrup. There will be those that are really effervescent and others that are flat.
Have fun, and find one that speaks to you on a personal level!