The history of alcohol in the United States has a roller coaster past, marked by years of prohibition and speakeasies, before reaching legal – and tightly regulated – status. For many years after the end of prohibition, large companies dominated the market, as most small brewers couldn’t stand up to the rigorous rules and regulations surrounding production.
That all changed in 1979 when President Jimmy Carter deregulated the market, opening the way for small brewing companies to once again emerge on the beer-producing scene. While the boom and popularity of microbreweries and craft beers are attributed to other factors as well, this deregulation ushered in the rise of competition for large companies like Anheuser-Busch, Miller-Coors, and Pabst.
What Makes Craft Beers Different?
The simple answer: They’ve traded mass production and easy money to focus on the art of beer making, producing higher quality and diversity of flavors. This isn’t just about business to them, it’s a passion and an art-form expressed through their product.
Most craft beers are not marketed through traditional measures but instead are produced locally in small batches and available through local bars, pubs, and restaurants like the 571 Grill and Draft House in New Carlisle, Ohio. This, too, adds to their unique appeal. A good craft-beer stands out among its competitors – both big and small – because of it’s limited quantity and availability. Getting your hands on one is like finding gold.
What are the Types of Craft Beers?
This is a hard question to answer because the nature of a “craft beer” means it is different from its peers – each brewer tweaks his recipe to make it as unique as possible. Many factors go into branding a beer as a certain type, including:
- Color – This can range from gold to copper to almost black.
- Clarity – How clear is the beer? The less noticeable particles, the better.
- Malt Aroma & Flavor
- Hops Aroma & Flavor
- Body – Also known as “mouth-feel” or the thickness of the beer.
- Fermentation – The method used for fermentation is what produces the carbonation or “head” to the beer. It also affects the flavor and body. Traditionally, CO2 (or carbon dioxide) is used for fermentation, however, it is acidic and adds bitterness to a beer. Some brewers are switching to “Nitro” – or a mixture of nitrogen gas and CO2. The nitro produces a “gentler” carbonation, allowing for a creamier body and a sweeter flavor. Overall, Nitro is more expensive to use than CO2 and is best reserved for beers that traditionally have sweeter notes.
All that being said, craft beer falls into eight categories:
- Ale – An ale is produced using the same type of yeast as that in bread and wine. It is a hardy yeast, surviving at a higher alcohol content than others. Fermentation happens faster and at higher temperatures than other beers, decreasing its clarity. It is known for being robust in flavor and having fruit undertones, but due to a higher hops content, it is also more bitter than other beers. Ales also tend toward darker colors rather than gold.
- Lager – While similar to an ale in use of yeast, the strain is a different type. It is considered more fragile than ale yeast and needs colder temperatures to survive. This yeast ferments slowly, producing a sweeter, smoother flavor than an ale. Lagers have lower alcohol contents because this type of yeast is sensitive and dies once reaching a certain level. The slower, colder fermentation of a lager produces a lighter, clearer beer than an ale. While hops are present in a lower content than ales, the slow yeast fermentation allows enhancement of their flavor without producing bitterness.
- Pilsner – The Pilsner is a narrowly defined version of the Lager. While similar, a true Pilsner will have distinct characteristics, such as robust carbonation, light golden color and brilliant clarity, subtle malt flavor with hints of floral and spice, low alcohol content, and a medium-body while remaining light on the tongue.
- Bock – The Bock is produced in the style of a Lager, but with characteristics that make it quite different. Bocks are dark in color from copper to brown, carrying strong toasted malt tones with the occasional hint of caramel, have a medium-full body and creamy head, and are well-balanced between the bitterness of hops and malt and the sweetness of a Lager.
- IPA – This stands for India Pale Ale. While produced similarly to other ales, it contains a greater hops content, giving it that strong bitter flavor IPAs are known for. American IPAs tend to hold citrus flavors due to the variety of native hops used. It ranges in color from gold to copper, maintains a higher alcohol content than most beers, and is malty in addition to its bitterness. It is described as medium bodied, crisp, and dry. Other variations of IPA exist, such as the English-Style IPA and the Imperial or Double IPA.
- Wheat – Also known as the Hefeweizen, it is a German-style beer made with both wheat malt and yeast, brewed similarly to an ale. The American Wheat beer has a few defining characteristics, such as a thicker head due to a higher protein content, a haze or cloudier appearance, a silky body or mouthfeel, a light flavor, pale color, and a lower alcohol content.
- Porter – Porter beers are, quite literally, the “black sheep” of the family. Known for its dark color, Porter is brewed using brown or black malt. Its history is sketchy, with many theories as to its origins. One point many agree on is that its name came from those who drank it: the working-class street and river porters. Though dark, a good Porter will have good clarity, with hints of mahogany when held to the light. It carries a medium to full body and is well known for a heavily-roasted or almost burnt flavor. American Porters are usually mixed with coffee and chocolate for a more versatile profile. Porters tend towards the bitter spectrum due to the dark color of the malt.
- Stout – For many, it is hard to differentiate between a Stout and a Porter. For a long time, Stout was used as a descriptor for strong Porters. However, over time it has become its own craft beer, most popularly consumed as Guinness. With the same dark malt, deep roasting, chocolate or coffee tones, and creamy, smooth body, it has a few tweaks to make it different from a Porter. The Stout will not have the same almost-burnt tones to its roasted malt, it tends to have a higher carbonation content, the color will be denser and darker, and brewers will sometimes mix in oats or wheat.
The re-emergence of microbreweries and craft beer has added a versatility to the beer market not available through mass producers. Which, is why WE are super excited about it!