The craft beer industry has certainly come a long way since its beginnings forty years ago. When President Carter signed HR1337 on October 14, 1978, home brewing became legalized on the federal level. This act corrected an oversight of the 21st Amendment, which repealed prohibition but failed to mention home brewing. The effective date of HR1337, February 1, 1979, can truly be viewed as the ‘birthday’ of these popular and distinctive beverages.
What, exactly, is craft beer? The Brewer’s Association has set forth several characteristics that define what this libation is:
– Small. Today’s microbreweries produce their products in small batches that are generally accepted as six million barrels or less. This is a direct reflection of the hobby’s origins and the home brewers who only made their beverages in small amounts.
– Individualistic. The methods and techniques to attract new customers reflect the style and tastes of each company instead of following a large, commercialized model.
– Traditional Yet Innovative. This is the signature characteristic that sets craft beer apart from other alcoholic beverages. Brewers utilize traditional ingredients (a cereal grain such as barley, hops, yeast and water) and then add distinctive non-traditional elements, such as pumpkin or oranges, to develop new flavor profiles.
These innovators also take some of the older styles, such as lagers, bitters, ales, and stouts, and reinterpret them into new and unknown varieties. These spirits have no precedent to compare them to and, as a result, provide consumers with new adventures in taste.
– Community Involvement. The purveyors of these beverages tend to be more focused and involved with the communities in which they live and work. These connections can range from sponsorships to charity events, as well as other types of philanthropy. In many cases, the brewery’s name can even reflect where it is located.
– Independent. Keeping a great distance from the control of larger alcoholic beverage conglomerates, as well as non-beverage entities seeking to buy an ownership stake in the operation, is an important characteristic of these small brewers. By embracing their individuality, companies can maintain the integrity of their products and processes.
By some measures, most Americans live within ten miles of an establishment that makes and sells craft beers. The continued development of new products, refinement of brewing practices, and creative genius of these operations provide customers with many new and exciting selections to experience.
Even as these microbreweries thrive, the next generation is waiting in the wings-the nanobrewery. Usually a one-person operation, these “scaled down” microbreweries produce smaller batches and market to a much smaller area. With craft beer accounting for eleven percent of the market, in 2014, the future of these custom libations is quite bright.