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9 Facts about Craft BrewersCraft beer is often misunderstood even within the liquor industry. Craft brewers are certainly not always given their due since there is a broad gap between those knowing how to savor a well-crafted high quality brew and those looking to spend less and drink more.

Are you wondering exactly what a craft beer is – and isn’t? And what a craft brewer is – and isn’t? The article below from Craft Beer Restaurant gives a thorough explanation.

What is craft beer • Craft Beer Restaurant Reference Library

Craft Beer Restaurant uses the term craft beer in a broader and more inclusive sense than some. Basically, a craft beer is a well-made, interesting beer that tends to cost more than the big macro-brands, even when it is of the same beer style category. Craft beer has a distinct character appropriate for its style and generally pairs well with certain food. A craft beer may be made by a small artisan brewer or by a larger regional brewery, imported or domestic. It’s not so much the size of the brewery, but the commitment to high quality that determines whether or not a beer is a craft beer.

Nine things that differentiate Craft Beer

  1. Craft brewers use higher quality base malts made from the more expensive two-row barley instead of the cheaper six-row barley commonly used by the macro-brewers.
  2. Craft brewers’ recipes use more types of more-expensive specialty malts to provide more-potent and wider-ranging flavors to their beers. [See the Weyermann Malt webpage to explore the numerous malt types used by craft brewers.]
  3. Craft brewers do not use cheaper adjunct grains, such as corn and rice, to lighten the taste of their beer. If they want to produce a “light” beer, they still do it with an all-malt recipe (Samuel Adams Light lager for example).
  4. Craft brewers typically use a wider variety of and more expensive hops in their beers than do the macro-brewers. They also are more likely to produce beer styles that include a whole lot more hops than is found in any macrobrew.
  5. Craft brewers brew their beers to be flavorful and rewarding, to be great with food, in the same way good wine is.
  6. Craft brewers design beers for customers who appreciate quality over quantity. “Drink better not more.” It’s a philosophy right for today’s world.
  7. Most craft brewers produce their beer locally in small batches. It is handcrafted like the food in a good restaurant.
  8. Craft brewers are more inclined to be artists than manufacturers. Craft brewers tend to be more impulsive than macro-brewers, producing new beers based on an inspiration rather than on market research. This can result in some pretty unexpected, interesting and tasty results.
  9. Craft brewers are known for a much wider range of beer styles than you see from macro-brewers.

Brewers Association definitions

The (US) Brewers Association provides this definition of an American craft brewer:

Craft Brewer – An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional.

  1. Small: Annual production of beer less than 6 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.
  2. Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
  3. Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

The word small in the definition above includes both Microbreweries and Regional Craft Breweries. The Brewers Association offers these definitions of those terms:

Microbrewery – A brewery that produces less than 15,000 barrels (17,600 hectoliters) of beer per year. Microbreweries sell to the public by one or more of the following methods: the traditional three-tier system (brewer to wholesaler to retailer to consumer); the two-tier system (brewer acting as wholesaler to retailer to consumer); and, directly to the consumer through carryouts and/or on-site tap-room or restaurant sales.

Regional Craft Brewery – An independent brewery with an annual beer production of between 15,000 and 6,000,000 barrels who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

American craft beer is growing fast. In fact, in recent years, it has been growing while the overall beer market has shrunk a bit. While increasing, it’s overall market share is still only about 6% of the American beer market. Contrast this to better wines, which have a market share of over 10%.

Imported Craft Beer

Craft Beer Restaurant also includes fine imported beers in its definition of craft beer. Many foreign brewers produce beer that is craft beer quality. These are brewers who make:

  1. artisan brews with lots of character, or
  2. (non-adjunct-laden) beers of specific or traditional ale and lager styles historically tied to a brewery’s geographic region.

Suffice it to say that there are literally hundreds of small and regional, traditional craft beer breweries in Europe as well as in other regions today—and their numbers are growing each year. Fortunately, many export to the US. Today, you don’t have to look far to find a high-quality imported craft beer from an interesting small brewery.

Belgium is an example of a country that is a strong craft beer contributor. While its larger production beers are mundane macro-brewed Euro lagers (Stella Artois, Maes, Jupiler, for example) that are similar to their US counterparts, Belgium’s smaller breweries produce some of the best and widest-ranging styles of beers anywhere. Many of their unique, historic, and traditional styles have been taken up or resuscitated by a new generation of craft brewers. To this day, Belgium beers have served as a challenge and an inspiration to American craft brewers.

It is widely believed that the larger foreign macro-lager producers have diluted/lightened the tastes of their beers much as their American macro-brewer counterparts have done. Most beer reviewers today do not consider macro-lager brands such as Heineken, Becks, Corona, Stella, Amstel, and the like to be of craft beer quality. However, a number of the larger Bavarian/German lager producers still produce a very high quality, all-malt product.

While some may question the big-production Munich lagers (such as those from Spaten or Pauliner) that are exported to America, almost everyone includes the better Bavarian lager producers (Augustiner and Ayinger, for instance)  as craft beer quality breweries. That holds for many labels of classic Bavarian wheat beers like those from Schneider, Ayinger, and Weihenstephan, which are widely available in the US. The better Bavarian beers are truly among the very best in the world.

Don’t get too hung up on brands and labels

It’s not the label but the beer in the bottle that is most important. As in wine, many different beer producers are making great quality products. Some of the world’s best beers are made by the smallest breweries. New craft beers are entering your market every month. You may have never seen or heard of them before. Taste the beers, read reviews, sample them with beer-aficionado staff and customers. These activities will result in your choosing the best craft beers for your establishment.

Small, hard-to-find labels have cachet; well-known craft brewers have celebrity status; local breweries have a strong community following; advertised craft brands have greater consumer awareness. There are good reasons to sell each type of craft beer. Only you can determine which beers are right for your beer list.

Do big nationally-advertised macro-brands make craft beer?

Generally speaking, no they do not. But they do produce an impressive high-tech product that has wide popularity. Over the past 75 years, the major lager/pilsner producers have strived to perfect a brewing process that produces exactly the same beer each time it is made. It is a very high-tech, industrial process that is an impressive combination of modern science and mass-production technology. Everything from mass producing the raw materials, to developing superior controls technology and highly efficient brewing systems, to performing extensive laboratory-based R&D, everything is done to create and maintain the exact taste profile and quality they desire, while keeping costs down.

These are beers designed for extremely large volume production that can be exactly replicated whether the brewery is in Florida, Missouri, California or Belgium. The brewing technology ensures that the beers will not contain off-flavors, infections or accidental brewing variations. It allows them to manufacture beers with very light taste profiles made from less expensive ingredients produced by large-scale agribusiness.

The macro-lager taste profile they desire has grown lighter and lighter through the years. The beers today, which many may describe as pretty bland and boring, are designed for the common denominator of the mass-market — the multitude of individuals who have never known any other beer styles and have yet to delve into the more taste-forward craft beer market. Macro-brews are engineered to be served ice cold (this helps ensure their desired lighter flavor), to be refreshing and easy to drink so that one serving does not leave you feeling full.

Can the big international macro-breweries produce a craft-quality beer? Sure, and some do make a few. But making small-batch, high-cost craft beer is just not their business model. They sell over 90% of the beer that is consumed in America today. They are best suited to expand that type of market rather than to fight for the other 5% or 10% that they are not particularly well-suited to produce and market.

Are all smaller breweries craft beer breweries?

Not necessarily. A small or regional brewery could still make cheaper, adjunct-laden, macro-lager style beer, and there are definitely some who do.  Just because it is an obscure label does not make it a higher-quality beer. It’s buyer beware in the beer market just as it is in the wine market or any other consumer marketplace.

Consult friends or staff members who really know their craft beer, read the craft-beer trade press, and utilize the craft beer web sites, such as craftbeer.com, ratebeer.com and beeradvocate.com. It’s easy to check up on a beer and find out if it is truly a quality craft beer or just an impostor.

Watch out for supposed craft beer that is priced below the well-known craft beer labels. A lower than market price is a good indicator that the beer is more cheaply made. Quality brewing ingredients are expensive; craft beer’s smaller batch brewing techniques are expensive. No craft brewers who plan to stay in business can give away their beer.

So the next time you’re in a restaurant or stopping by Julio’s Liquors, take the time to try out a few different types of craft beer. The craft brewers work very hard to bring you their very best, and their very best is certainly worth a taste or two. (And you’ll quickly decide they’re worth more than just a few tastes.)

Julio’s Liquors is proud to carry a large selection of beers crafted by some of the best craft brewers. Located in Westborough, Massachusetts, Julio’s features some of the most highly acclaimed regional craft beers. Visit our beer shop to see what all the buzz is about!

How many different craft beers have you tried? And have you uncovered a loyalty to any specific craft brewers?