The Dawn of the Enlightened Drinker

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You’re a beer drinker. Maybe not all the time, but something about cracking a cold one after a long day is just the slice of heaven you crave from time to time. Whenever you run low on supplies, you drive on over to the local grocery store to restock on your favorite golden liquid treat. You know just where they keep your brand; heck, you even have the price memorized so when you approach the check out counter, you’ve got exact change. Although over the last couple decades, you’ve started to notice new brands springing up next to your beloved stand-bys; and especially over the last five years, you’ve seen the beer fridge at your local grocery store grow and multiply like some sort of bacterial virus with all new brands, bottle sizes and shapes, sporting zany names. You’ve even seen it spread to your local watering holes. Bars that used to pride themselves on having one or two beers whose main selling point was that they were “cold,” now have five, ten, even twenty or more taps with all sorts of crazy tap handles that look more like abstract art than a beer label. This invasion of new and artistic beer into the overwhelmingly nondescript American beer market could not have come at a better time. Consumer spending habits are rapidly changing. Gone are the days when the cheapest price and the most advertising space would garner the largest sales and fattest bottom line. No, today’s average consumer is much more discerning. It is not enough for a computer today to connect you to the internet wirelessly and process data at light speed—it must be engineered for you, ready and able to meet the challenges that your unique lifestyle requires. It is not enough for a car today to get you from point A to B—it must make the journey the experience, once again supplying features to complement the user’s unique lifestyle. This consumer behavioral shift has struck the beer market in America as well—historically one of the most bland and rigid markets in the world. President Jimmy Carter started the revolution when he legalized homebrewing in 1979, unshackling Americans to do what they do best: make something bigger, badder, and ballsier than what the rest of the world does. The result? The American Craft Beer Revolution (or should I say Enlightenment?).

Nearly 25 years after the legalization of homebrewing, there are 2,416 active breweries in the US, 2,360 of which are designated as Craft Breweries. The Brewer’s Association defines an American Craft Brewery as one that is small (annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less), independent (less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer), and traditional (the brewery has either an all malt flagship brand 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). What all that means is that American craft brewers are free to pursue what tickles their own palate, committed to producing full flavored beers that aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd, and small enough to fill niche roles in the beer market. These craft breweries have sprung up all over the US and are now a mainstay in local grocery stores as well as upscale restaurants and sports bars. What’s more, even the big guys at Anheuser-Busch and Miller-Coors are starting to capitalize on the changing tastes of beer consumers by producing their own “craft” imitations, like Shocktop and Blue Moon. The craft beer market is here to stay because consumers want more from their beers. They want flavor, an interesting backstory, and exciting new products. However, like computers, cars, and every other consumer product today, what they want most is something by which they can define themselves. There has never been a more electrifying time to stand out from the crowd than now, and craft beer is one of the industries that is leading that charge.

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With this new consumer movement and diversifying tastes, going to the grocery store to pick up a six pack of something good has never been more complicated. What’s the difference between an American Pale Ale and an American Amber Ale? What should I expect to taste in a Belgian Tripel? What makes this bottle worth $20 when the one next to it is only $2? What can I bring to my boss’ dinner party to really stand out? And what the heck are these crazy styles like Gose, Sahti, and Dubbel? My goal is to answer all these questions and more in this blog. My endeavor is to share a brief history of various styles, their geographical origin, stylistic information, and ideas for great beer and food pairing. Through this, I will be highlighting some of the very best beers and breweries in the US and entire world to make your next shopping trip or restaurant experience substantially easier and more rewarding. Armed with newfound beer knowledge, you will be ready to storm the beer aisle with confidence or impress your co-workers or friends with something deliciously different.

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