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Beer Basics - What is Craft Beer?

August 26, 2021
whatitcraftbeer

We hear the term "craft beer" thrown around quite often but what is that exactly? Which beers can be considered craft and are they better than other beers? After over two decades of providing beverage equipment and supplies for the food & beverage industry, we have answers to all your burning questions. Craft beer is one of our many passions and we think you'll share this passion with us after reading this article.


whatiscraftbeer

What is Craft Beer?

Craft beer is actually a little difficult to define because it is quite a broad term and many brands will use this term to market their beers. The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group that protects and promotes small and independent U.S. brewers, defines an American Craft Brewer as a small, independent brewer. This definition covers 98% of the breweries in the United States.


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What Qualifies a Brewer as a ‘Small and Independent Brewer'?

According to the Brewers Association, a small brewer has an "annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less" and an independent brewer is determined by "less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer".


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Domestic vs. Craft Beer

Domestic beers come from large breweries in the United States, are known widely across the country, and are available in most bars or grocery stores in the nation. Craft beers are often local and may not be found in your local grocery store or liquor store. Many brands are expanding their business by shipping out their beers direct to customers so, you too can enjoy craft beer at home.


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Imported vs. Craft Beer

Imported beers are all beers produced outside of the United States. These can be from large breweries or craft brewers. All countries have their own qualifications and standards to be considered craft beer. Many of the imported beers we are familiar with are from large breweries, delivering us iconic foreign beers served across the U.S.

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Craft Beer in the United States

Craft beer is a booming industry in the United States. As a nation, the U.S. currently has more beer styles and brands to choose from than any other market in the world! That means there is an expansive range of beer options to choose from when you're considering stocking up your kegerator. Before we talk more about modern day America, where more than 8,000 breweries are responsible for the beer brands available in the U.S., we need to go back to the beginning.

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American Beer History

American beer is older than the independence of the nation, itself! Native Americans were fermenting corn to create an alcoholic beverage but the first brewery dates back to 1612 in New Amsterdam, now known as, New York City.

With the rise of the industrial revolution, beer and brewing grew with the young American nation. By the nineteenth century, the U.S. saw a huge growth in the number of American breweries, including an influx of immigrants and their beer styles. Brewing continued to diversify throughout the nineteenth century.

Then 1920 rolled around, bringing forth the darkest time for beer, Prohibition. Naturally, American breweries took a huge hit during this time until it was repealed in 1933. After this time, consolidation of breweries was rampant and light lager rose as the dominant beery style. As brewery numbers shark and lager became popular, beer options in America dwindled.

Then, excitingly, homebrewers started brewing beer themselves. The homebrewing industry revived the variety within the beer industry. Post-world wars, American has been introduced to European beer culture and with limited options available on American soil, homebrewing became a very popular hobby. This eventually leads us to America's modern day beer varieties, which are numerous and growing. Very quickly, the leap from homebrewing to professional brewing was made and the craft industry became stronger than ever with small brewers cropping up all over the nation.

By 1978, there were only 45 independent breweries and some of the biggest names in beer, Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, frontiered our modern craft industry. While these days, they may not be considered part of the craft beer industry, they once played a large role in bringing variety to American beer.

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How to Enjoy Craft Beer

Craft beer now comes in so many varieties that everyone will find one that they can enjoy. Luckily we there's only really one way to truly enjoy craft beer and that is straight from the tap! Realistically, going on a beer tour through the United States would be costly and take up a lot of your time but you can still get craft beers from far and wide. Many breweries will deliver a keg to your home and all you'll need is a kegerator.

A kegerator is a compact beer dispensing system that will deliver you the same great taste that you'd get from a brewery tap. Using carbon dioxide, a kegerator dispenses perfectly chilled and preserved beer from a keg to your glass. That means, unlike with bottles or cans, you can get that really refreshing, carbonated, and crisp taste and mouthfeel from your beer. This is the way craft beer is meant to be enjoyed. We think everyone can benefit from investing in a kegerator but if you want to know if a kegerator is right for you, we discuss the benefits further in this article.

Many people question whether a kegerator is worth it and we can assure you, it most certainly is! Not only is the beer-drinking experience enhanced but it can save you a whole lot of money. We go into detail about how much money you can save in this article here. If you're regularly attending the brewery, a great way to save money and enjoy your favorite craft brew is owning a kegerator. A keg stays fresh a lot longer than you would think, saving your money and a beer run. Read more about how to long a keg lasts here.

Other affordable ways to enjoy craft beer would be building your own kegerator by using a freezer or refrigerator and a kegerator conversion kit. Conversion kits include everything you need to build a custom beer dispenser and you can still get the same great draft taste.

Another great option is picking up a growler of craft beer at your local brewery. Growlers are a fantastic way to enjoy craft beer comfortably at home without the busy bar atmosphere. Growlers are filled straight from the tap and are sealed to keep that fresh taste for days if refrigerated and opened. The growlers even last a while after you open them, as well. Learn more about the beauty of growlers here.

If you just need a draft beer dispenser for the day or for special occasions, we recommend picking up a jockey box or keg pump. While these are both affordable options for serving a keg of craft beer, but the the keg pump require you to find a large vessel to keep your keg chilled because it doesn't have a refrigerated unit for your keg. Both of these will require a lot of ice and depending on how hot it may be outside, you may need to replenish the ice to keep you beer from getting too warm. Another important aspect for enjoying craft beer is ensuring you have the appropriate glass for your beer. The glass affects your drinking experience from enhancing the aromas to maintaining the head on your beer. We have a complete guide for choosing the right beer glass here.

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How to Become a Craft Brewer

You can easily become a craft brewer by homebrewing. Afterall, this is how all the great craft breweries started. Homebrewing sounds like it will be difficult but it doesn't have to be. When you first start out, you can try a homebrew kit, which contains everything you need to brew a small batch of beer and allows you to understand the brewing process. These kits use a method called extract brewing, which is an easier brew method than all-grain brewing, which requires you to mill your own grain and boil it. You can learn more about the difference between all-grain and extract brewing here.

We think homebrewing is an amazing hobby to pick up and a great skill to learn. You won't only be able to impress others with this new-found talent but you will be able to create your own craft beer that will suit your tastes. Before you start brewing, we recommend checking out our 10 Tips for Beginning Homebrewers and our Homebrew Ultimate Starter Guide.

When you're ready for the next level, you can learn how to mill your own grain, pick out a brew kettle, and learn about wort chillers. We have numerous articles on homebrewing to get you started toward becoming a craft brewer. Brewing, like other skills, takes time to develop the understanding and skills to develop a consistently great product. With some time you could be making beer history.

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The Craft Beer Experts

Beverage Factory has been helping provide equipment and resources to the craft beer industry for over two decades. From homebrewing to professional dispense, we have experts who can answer all your questions and get you started with a craft brew set up that you can be proud of or set you up with a high quality kegerator for you to enjoy your brews. Give our team of experts a call at 800-710-9939 to learn more about your craft beer options!