Tuesday, 30 April 2013

U.S. microbreweries on the rise....

With so many choices, we take the guesswork out of buying craft beer....
The craft beer business is booming, according to recent statistics released by the Brewers Association. With nearly 2,000 microbreweries operating in the United States, the selection of beers can be overwhelming. We explored the world of craft beer to help you make sense of the thousands of choices now available.


The Brewers Association defines an American craft brewer as a “small, independent, and traditional” brewery, which produces six million barrels of beer or less per year. The craft brewing movement began in the 1980s as a response to the domination of big-business beers over the brewing industry, according to the brewers association. The group cites big-industry marketing campaigns “that changed America’s beer preference to light-adjunct lager.”

Craft beers, meanwhile, are characterized by “better ingredients and a wider variety of styles,” says Natalie Phillips, beer manager at Belmont Party Supply in Dayton.

Craft beer’s focus is on perfecting more flavorful varieties like porter, pale ale and bock. Plenty of craft lagers are out there, too, but usually bear little resemblance to their mainstream cousins.

Smaller breweries have more control over their offerings and generally boast a wider selection than larger operations. Steve Hill of Magic Hat Brewing Company in South Burlington, Vermont describes the brewery’s quirky offerings.

“At any given time of year, we have about seven different beers in market,” he said. “We also have a little room to experiment with beer for special events like the Vermont Brewer’s Festival and the Great American Beer Festival in Denver.”

Despite their small size, many craft breweries, including Magic Hat, offer many of their beers nationally.


Closer to home, several craft beer companies are brewing up success. The Dayton Beer Company, which opened in Kettering in May, offers a growing selection of flavorful brews, including Broken Trolley Blonde Ale.

“I started The Dayton Beer Company through my love for tasting and creating great beers,” says owner Pete Hilgeman. “And want to both bring those creations to people and revive the forgotten brewing tradition that Dayton was known for.”

In Cincinnati, Mt. Carmel Brewing Company offers up beers to Ohioans and a lucky few in Northern Kentucky. Small but mighty, the company brews about 4,800 barrels of beer per year, which includes “five year rounds, four seasonals, and a few specialties,” according to spokesman Mike Dewey.


It’s easy to be seduced by the eye-catching labels and tongue-twisting titles that craft brewers are known for, but what’s in the bottle beneath the work of art?

“There are two different categories of beer: lager and ale,” explains Phillips. Ales are top-fermenters, which brew at warmer temperatures. Lagers are bottom-fermenters and brew at cooler temps. Lagers are generally crisper and don’t linger on the palate, says Phillips. By contrast, the ale family – including stouts, porters, and IPAs – can have a bitter or “hoppy” flavor, she said.

You’ll find a lot of variety from brewery to brewery, but here are some general rules of thumb. If a label says:

Smooth: It is a crisp beer with little bitterness.

Robust/Dark/Full-Bodied: It usually refers to “stouts and porters, which are brewed with darker malts,” says Phillips.

Hops: This indicate a bitter taste, and malt gives beer a sweetness.

Seasonal: These beers are available in limited release and often brewed with fruit or spices. For example, available now are Bell’s Oberon, Magic Hat’s Elder Betty, or Saranac’s Summer Ale.


Dewey suggests new drinkers “try lower alcohol ales such as blondes, ambers and pales. Lagers tend to be on the sweet side, and ales can have a tremendous amount of complexity while still being very sessionable beers.”

You might surprise yourself, said Hilgeman.

“Keep an open mind,” says Hilgeman, “and try as many different styles and beers as you can. You may end up liking a style or beer that you never would have thought you could enjoy.”

Hill suggests those new to craft beers start slow, “especially if you’ve been raised on the adjunct lagers like Bud and Miller.” Since most mainstream beers are indeed lagers, start there. Keep in mind though, not all lagers taste exactly the same.

Pale ales are an acquired taste for most. Hill says “some folks can just grab a double IPA and jump right in there,” but the bitterness factor usually takes some getting used to. Magic Hat’s signature brew, #9, billed as the “not quite Pale Ale,” is the perfect way to dip your toes in the Pale Ale pool.

Guinness fans might like a coffee, milk, or chocolate stout or a flavored porter like Breckenridge Vanilla Porter.

Some milder ales to try include Brooklyn Brown Ale by the Brooklyn Brewing Company, Goose Island’s Matilda, and Nut Brown Ale by the Mt. Carmel Brewing Company of Cincinnati.

Whatever beer you choose, heed Hill’s words of wisdom.

“Make sure there’s a craft beer-loving friend around who will make sure it doesn’t go to waste if you don’t like it,” Hill said. “Try as many different styles and ingredients as possible. Craft brewers can brew with anything from green tea to kombucha to chocolate and ginger. There’s something for everyone.”

Craft beer lingo

IPA – India Pale Ale, not to be confused with “light” beer. A very bitter ale with citrus notes.
Hops – bitter herb used to preserve ales and balance the sweetness of the malt
Malt –often barley, but sometimes wheat or rye, dried by a special process that creates sweetness
Lager – a popular, smooth beer style. The lager family includes bock and pilsner.

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