Brewing Up Change...

The craft beer industry has undergone many developments since its major deregulation in 1979 by the Jimmy Carter administration.  These have been seen through equipment innovation, raw ingredient quality and availability, distribution capacities and consumer trends.  For discussion purposes, we would like to steer our focus toward consumer trends and how those have developed over the last 30 or so years.

 Since the initial brewing revolution began in the early 1980’s with the presence of Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams, breweries and consumers have driven the average beer into the more complex craft form that it is today.  Most of the market was dominated by a few major brands, each carrying a small variety of American Light Lagers.  As small breweries began popping up, they began experimenting with the minimal selection of ingredients available to them.  Not knowing it at the time, they were pioneers of a whole new industry, spawning the American craft beer movement of the 1980’s-1990’s.  New breweries were now producing more full-flavored beers with an underlying complexity the consumers couldn’t get enough of. 

 As you may have noticed, craft breweries are re-designing the standard beer categories and spinning off categories of their own.  The BJCP (Beer Judge Certification Program) has designated over 23 categories of different styles of beers, each offering their own sub-category.  This means that when commercial brewers and homebrewers enter their beers in competitions, they have almost 100 different styles of beer to choose from.  These styles are constantly being revised as categories grow and the beer possibilities are seemingly endless. This just shows how experimentation fuels the craft beer enthusiast’s desire for change. 

 Breweries and consumers have been developing these constantly changing trends over a long period of time.  For example, the initial style of an India Pale Ale was a more hoppy English version of the Pale Ale.  This dates back to the early eighteenth century trading by the East India Company for exporting beer to India.  Hops are a natural preservative due to their high acid contents, therefore the IPA could withstand the long journey from Europe to India.  As you know, American’s like to overdue or should we say, out-do, our friends across the pond.  We took the English IPA style and made the American IPA.  Our IPAs are typically brewed with a single variety or a blend of citrus varieties of hops.  They are typically higher in alcohol and bitterness as well.  The United States has a long history with IPAs.  Even the East Coast and West Coast IPAs are distinguishably different.  Historically, West Coast breweries have had more access to the citrusy hops in fields of the Pacific Northwest while East Coast breweries had to rely on spicier European hops, which were more readily available.

 Regional beer trends have been seen across the United States as they gain favor amongst the local enthusiasts.  However, as most trends do, they spread.  Breweries in the wine country of the United States have been aging beers in wine barrels for years.  At major national beer festivals, such as the Great American Beer Festival, these styles of barrel aged beers gained in popularity.  Barrel aging beers have been in existence almost since the first barrel was made, however seeking out specialty barred aged beers has been a more recent trend in the past several years.  Breweries all over the country have started experimenting with barrel aging.  Your local Brewpub, Moon River, most recently aged their Belgian Style Pale Ale in a Tequila barrel, calling it Sombra de la Marmota.  Speaking first hand after enjoying a sample, it was quite tasty.  Southbound Brewing Co. also plans to start a barrel-aging program in the near future.  Constant experimentation with different beer styles in varying types of barrels has created endless excitement in the craft beer community. 

As the craft beer community grows, the customers expect more out of their beer.  Therefore the brewers are forced to push the envelope on beer styles and innovate new flavors, giving beer the complexity that is so highly desired.  Those who follow the craft beer trends have seen the market shift in several directions over the past decade or so, however the brewers and consumers are leading the shift.  The general public is constantly seeking out a higher quality, more flavorful, local beer.  That’s when we, the brewers, step in and deliver that beer consistently to the best of our ability.  Keep up with your beer, expect more, drink local and don’t be afraid to facilitate change!