Craft Brews Growing Strong: Time to Tap Into the Trend?

American Craft Brew Week was celebrated May 12th through May 19th and recent reports indicate that craft brews are the now winning in growth over the big breweries.  Technomics “2014 Special Trends in Adult Beverage Report” stated that craft beer production was up 9.6 per cent while overall beer production fell by 1.4 per cent in 2013. This rise is accompanied by new trends with craft beer brewing, and a movement in the restaurant industry—from upscale restaurants to neighborhood dives—to include a selections of local craft brews on the menu.

Why is craft brewing so unique?  Sean Williams of Motley Crew asserts that, “a lot of it has to do with the relationship forged between the brewers and their customers” and these customer have the finances to support their beer tasting hobby. According to Nielsen reports, 58.9% of craft brew drinkers make an average income of $75,000 or more.

Before 1980 there were 89 breweries in the US and now, according to U.S. News, there are more than 2,800 breweries with an additional 1,528 in the planning stages (Draft Magazine).  “The number of new breweries opening is at an unprecedented rate,” says Bart Watson, PhD, economist at Brewer’s Association.  “About 1.2 new breweries per day are opening.

But according to Williams, “overcrowding could weaken the craft beer movement.  As the market becomes more competitive brewers may cut corners on quality. Also, traditional brewers (non-craft) have been infiltrating the craft market. Draft Magazine also recently reported that folks who sell craft beers now seem “so jittery and nervous” and warns that “while there seems to be no shortage of people willing to jump into craft brewing, the distribution channels, shelf space and tap handles don’t necessarily expand so quickly.” And, there is real concern that many of the newcomers are just looking to make a quick buck and that the quality of craft brews will suffer.

WMBF News reported that the craft brewing market is growing faster than it can hire qualified employees. Some technical colleges and culinary schools are now adding programs that give a degree with a concentration in brewing, distillation and fermentation.

There’s a keen awareness among beer aficionados and chefs that certain beers pair very well with certain foods, just as with wines. Blonde Ales pair well with lighter foods like chicken and salmon, while IPA’s partner well with strong spicy foods, curries and even sweet spicy desserts like carrot cake. Porters go well with blackened fish, smoked food and barbeque.  But check out the chart from for more suggestions.

Some of the new trends in craft beer brewing will lead to new pairings.  Food and Wine Magazine reported that many breweries are thinking outside the norm by adding:

  • Local ingredients—Sean Wilson of Fullsteam Brewery added sweet potato and grits to beer to create his hickory smoked porter called “Hogwash” which is a great partner with pulled pork.
  • Sour ales—These are tart dry beers that are made with wild yeast strains and lactic acids to produce funky, earthy flavors in the beer.
  • Black IPA’s combines an intense hit of hops with the rich color and flavor of malt. Two reported favorites among beer snobs are Hill Farmstead’s Society and Solitude #2, Stone Sublimely Self Righteous Ale and Deschutes’s Hop in the Dark according to
  • Farmhouse Ale—This is a light ale (also called “saison”) that was originally brewed for the field workers in Belgium using leftover grains. US brewers are enjoying this innovative approach and are even tossing in black pepper or lavender or other left around ingredients. Craft breweries enjoy applying innovation and serendipity to the brew process, and even collaborate with each other to offer a new mash up.
  • Farm to Barrel brews add in the seasonal local fruits such as blueberries, blackberries, etc.

An interesting new trend was reported in a recent article by Chicago Business—aging beer in wine or bourbon barrels. In aging beer, some flavors become more pronounced and others fade. This imparts distinct flavors to the beer that you just don’t get from traditional methods.

According to NPR, brewers are even crossing wine with beer.  A popular hybrid is red wine with Porter Ale or crossing a chocolaty porter ale with a touch of Bordeaux. Dogfish Head Craft Brewery makes a beer/wine mashup called Sixty-One, (which pairs well with the likes of pork tenderloin, sushi, summer berries, apple pie, gouda cheese) and Kvasir, also by Dogfish, has a grog like blend that mixes beer, fruit wine and mead and is really based on some ancient recipes discovered. In fact, Dogfish Head re-created a number of brews based on archeological finds in China, Honduras, Peru, Egypt, Italy, and now Scandinavia. And they’re not the only ones mixing up the likes of this. Crooked Stave Brewery developed Oculus Dexter #1  and sold these bottles primarily to members of their Cellar Reserve Membership (an elite group of beer connoisseurs).  This was billed “as a sour Golden Ale that was brewed with Vignole grapes and aged in French oak casks.”

Many restaurants and eateries are now offering locally crafted beers on their menus and finding that a dedicated following of beer aficionados enjoy dining where fine brews are available.  Maybe it’s time to tap into the trend.

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