Three Cheers For Craft Beer!

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A flight of red ales from craft brewery, Black Shirt Brewing Company

I’ll admit it. I’m a complete sucker for craft beer and all the hype surrounding it. Beer has been a mainstay beverage in global civilizations for centuries. Everybody knows that there’s no better way to spend a friday night than enjoying an amber pint at your favorite pub with a couple of friends, relaxing after a grueling week of work. So what’s the big deal with craft beer, and why are so many willing to pay more for it than the Big Beer brands? The answer to those questions depends upon whom you ask. I can’t speak for everyone, but I can detail a few of the commonly given answers and explain why I enjoy drinking craft beer.

Some see it as a moral battleground. A theme commonly discussed among craft beer nerds (but little talked about by anyone else) is the fact that most of the beer consumed in the world is produced by a handful of giant corporations. Anheuser-Busch (AB inBev), one of these titan brewers, has recently been bidding on a merger with one of their biggest rivals, MillerCoors (SABMiller). The merger would purportedly make AB inBev the brewer of a third of the world’s beer. At this point, it seems likely that the deal will go through, if AB inBev can satisfy all the global anti-trust laws. The deal is said to be worth about $106 billion. Many craft beer drinkers see their choice of beverage as a way to take a stand against these giant corporations and fight the monopolization of beer by companies like AB inBev.

I’m not inherently opposed to commoditization or mass production, but it’s no secret that monopolies aren’t usually great for the consumer. By drinking craft beer instead of Big Beer brands, you play a part in helping small businesses compete in an industry that has long been dominated by a few hefty players. The growing support for craft beer seems to be actually making a difference. Last year, overall beer production fell by 1.4% while craft beer production increased by 9.6%, with a new brewery opening every day in the U.S. Craft beer’s raw numbers might not be as impressive as those of Big Beer, but craft’s portion of the market pie is steadily growing. That might explain why AB inBev is pushing for a merger like this. Many have speculated on how threatened Big Beer may actually feel by craft beers, after seeing Budweiser’s passive aggressive Super Bowl commercial that poked fun at the craft scene earlier this year.

The growing popularity of craft beer can also be seen as an extension of the craze for local and organic foods. Brewers tout their commitment to producing unfiltered, unpasteurized, organic products. It’s common for these brewers to have a small area of distribution and to buy raw materials from local farms. Many people enjoy the satisfaction that comes from supporting small local businesses from their hometowns. I know of a few good local breweries in the Pittsburgh area where I live, but most people from outside the area have probably never heard of them, even if they’re into craft beer. I like being able to participate in the scene and to be in-the-know about good beers that are a secret to others. There’s a certain exclusivity to it that harkens back to the charming days of yore, long before globalization homogenized consumer markets.

Of course another major reason to make the switch to drinking craft brews is taste. Taste is always going to be subjective, so no beer can appeal to every palette, but many enthusiasts champion craft beer as being superior in taste to the macro-brewed beer you see in Super Bowl ads. Others enjoy nothing better than a clean light beer from a Big Beer brand after a hard day’s work, and there’s nothing wrong with that either. However, variety is where craft beer clearly has the upper hand.

Most of the myriad of brands owned by AB inBev as well as SABMiller are suspiciously similar in style and taste. Almost all of the most widely distributed beers worldwide are pale lagers. It’s clearly a popular choice, but if you are looking for anything more offbeat or distinctive, you’re only left with a handful of options if you stick to Big Beer brands. By contrast, most craft breweries will offer at least a few substantively different beers from which to to choose. When you factor in the number of craft breweries popping up across the U.S., each with their own unique take on the beers they brew, you begin to understand how much broader your options get when you go craft.

For myself, one of the most enjoyable things about drinking craft beer is the range of choice. Beer drinking has become one of my hobbies. It’s an entire world to explore, much like the world of wine that many people enjoy. Drinking craft beer is about exploring new flavors and different takes on familiar styles. It’s incredibly easy to get sucked into the whole scene if you are half as attracted to connoisseurship as I am. I’ve even given homebrewing a try. Yes, I’m still working out the kinks in crafting my own custom brews, but it’s a hobby I’m excited to delve deeper into in the future. There is so much experimentation and fun to be had with homebrewing, plus it can be way cheaper than buying even low-priced Big Beer brands. To top it all off, you have complete control over the flavor and type of beer you brew.

Whether you are new to craft beer or a seasoned veteran, there are always new things to learn and new beers to try. Even if you are someone who thinks you don’t like beer at all, it might be worth checking out a few craft offerings. The variety is so great that you may find something that totally defies your expectations of what beer can taste like. So raise your can, bottle or glass – and say cheers!

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