When trying to define craft beer, each beer lover has a unique interpretation and story of discovery to share. To make a true craft beer definition even more difficult, each individual beer brand is one of a kind. The Brewers Association, the foremost entity for craft beers, does define an American craft brewer. This definition allows the organization to provide statistics on the growing craft brewery segment which makes up the majority of all breweries in the U.S.
What is an American craft brewer? It has many definitions, but to break it down into simplicity, it is:
Small – The Annual production for Craft Breweries is 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales).
Independent – Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
Traditional – A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
So, what is a craft beer? A craft beer has been described variously as 10 minutes of pleasure, pure happiness in a glass, authentic, archetypical, an intellectual beverage that is to be savored not swilled and much, much more. It is enjoyed for everyday celebrations and is viewed by many as one of the special things in life that makes the day taste and feel a little better.
Each glass displays the creativity and passion of its maker and the complexity of its ingredients. Craft beer is treasured by millions around the world who see it as not merely a fermented beverage, but something to be enjoyed in moderation (see Savor the Flavor), shared and revered. It is a versatile beverage that not only enhances food when paired, but is also often brought into the kitchen as a cooking ingredient.
Today is the best time in U.S. history to be a beer lover. The average American lives within 10 miles of a brewery. As a nation, the U.S. now has more beer styles and brands to choose from than any other market in the world. This has not always the case if you look at the History of Beer in the U.S. prior to 1980.
More than 3,400 breweries are responsible for the beer brands available in the U.S., with 99 percent fitting the Brewers Association’s small and independent craft brewer definition.
These craft breweries have had many successes and challenges, but they could not have developed their reputation as producers of the world’s best beer without the support of beer lovers globally.
Craft brewers face many challenges including access to market, cost of raw materials and ingredients and operation in a highly regulated and highly taxed industry. It also doesn’t help when the Buds, Coors and Millers of the world are hell bent in trying to buy out some of the bigger craft breweries to try to continue to manipulate the market.
It will be a constant and ongoing battle, but with the continued rise in craft beer, and it is a battle that the little guy can win. Remember, when you but a 6-pack of a craft beer, you are supporting a local brewery, and you are supporting the community and culture of craft brewing in the U.S., which helps craft brewers provide jobs and support their local communities.