The popularity of craft beer in America has a fascinating story. From early settlers to today’s microbreweries, the history of beer in America is something of a roller coaster ride. Today, craft beer is a $26 billion dollar industry, but how did we get here? Read on if you have ever asked yourself: What is craft beer and why is it trending?
While there is no official definition of craft beer, it is reasonable to say that craft beer is beer produced by a craft brewer. The Brewers Association has created specific qualifications that a brewer must meet to be able to be called a craft brewer: small, independent, and traditional.
According to the Brewers Association a craft brewery can only produce 3% of the total market. In the past, the BA decided upon a certain production amount that a craft brewer was required to stay under in order to retain “craft brewery” status. Since the market has grown so wildly in recent years, the new qualification is much more reasonable. Now if the market output grows, a craft brewery can grow along with it.
Many smaller breweries are owned, at least in part, by larger brewing conglomerates. Anheuser-Busch, for instance, partially owns more than a dozen smaller beer brands. So, what is craft beer? In order for a brewery to retain its craft status, 75% of the company must be owned by brewers with craft brewer status.
A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavors derive from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored Malt Beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
The BA has become very specific about what they consider traditional beer in recent years. This is perhaps a reaction to the growing popularity of non-traditional fermented, malt beverages in the market.
To understand why craft beer is so popular today, we need to delve back into a bit of America’s beer history. As with any market, the history of the product greatly affects its sales today.
Beer in Early America
Beer is one of the oldest beverages in the world, so not only did Native Americans have their own fermented drink made from corn, early settlers brought beer over from their homelands. For decades after, beer was most often made in the home in small batches. As more Europeans immigrated to America in the 1800s, they brought their tastes in beer with them. The light lager that was so popular in Germany became increasingly popular in America as well. Breweries, both large and small, produced this yellow lager to meet demand.
The Temperance Movement
As the Temperance Movement grew into the official prohibition of liquor, small breweries died off. When Prohibition was repealed in the early 1930s, only the large breweries were financially stable enough to reopen. These large breweries made good use of the technology of the industrialized age to produce large amounts of lager efficiently. These two factors led to the drastic decrease of total breweries in America in the following decades. Before Prohibition, there were over 1300 breweries in the country. By 1970, there were only 89.
Jimmy Carter and Homebrewing
We owe much of today’s craft brew scene to House Resolution 1337 which was signed into law by then-President Jimmy Carter. This law finally allowed Americans to brew beer in their own homes once again. This led to the surging homebrew movement of the ’80s and ’90s when amateur brewers were experimenting with small batches of innovative brews. We owe Jimmy Carter a big thanks for helping make an article titled what is craft beer possible.
Homebrewers to Craft Brewers
Many of these homebrewers made the jump from homebrewing to microbrewing and eventually to growing businesses. Popular beer labels like Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada both have their foundations in the homebrewing movement. What started as small-batch brews now are bottled and distributed across the country leading to various craft beer trends.
During the “Less Filling, Tastes Great” era, huge beer brewers created beer that was light in flavor and calories. And if you wanted variety in flavor, style, or ingredients, you were out of luck. You drank it yellow or you didn’t drink it at all. Once consumers were introduced to the new, innovative beer styles created by craft brewers demand skyrocketed. Today craft beer is everywhere.
Remember how we told you there were only 89 breweries in the US in 1970? Today the Brewers Association reports that there are 6,372 breweries currently in operation! They estimate that most Americans live less than 10 miles away from a craft brewery. So, what is craft beer? We hope you learned a little of the history and some craft beer trends. We also hope that you sample home delights from a local craft brewery soon! Want some recommendations? Try our choices for the best craft beers.