It’s a good time for beer.
These days Americans are discovering a wide variety of craft brews and microbrews unheard of just a few years ago. We’re tasting a spectrum of Old-World styles and modern innovations. Craft brewers have proved that so much more water, malted barley, yeast and hops go into a good beer. The creativity and passion they put into their product is apparent with every taste. The complexities of some craft beers are to be savored just as one might enjoy a fine wine or Scotch.
And you can bet that craft beer enthusiasts take their brews very seriously. This new generation of gourmet brewskis inspires real passion and devotion among the aficionados who love them. The fans have pretty high standards. For example, the temperature has to be just right to release the taste of malt. The glassware has to be just right. Some of these folks are truly obsessed. And who can blame them?
According to The Brewers Association, in 2013 there are 2,416 U.S. breweries, with 2,360 considered craft breweries. Of those, 1,124 are brewpubs, 1,139 are microbreweries, and 97 are regional craft breweries. The terms “craft brew” and “microbrew” are often used interchangeably, but they don’t mean the same thing. Technically speaking, a microbrewery produces no more than 460,000 gallons a year, with at least 75 percent of it sold off premises. So the name “microbrew” is more of a way to describe production output, not brewing methods.
A craft brewery, on the other hand, is an independent brewery that makes no more than 2 million gallons of beer annually. There are specified ingredients and methods used (at least 50 percent traditional malts must be used, for example). Craft beers are often European style ales, porters and stouts. The best-known craft brew is from Samuel Adams (Boston Brewing Company).
The pride craft brewers take in the quality of their recipes is noteworthy. These special little touches might include using bourbon-soaked oak barrels. They might include ingredients such as cloves or honey that alter the flavor and the alcohol content. A craft beer is a living beverage that is carbonated by natural fermentation. Mass-produced beers, by contrast, are pasteurized and injected with carbon dioxide to make them bubbly.
Craft beers are wonderful with foods, and the diversity of beers gives you a palette of flavor to complement nearly any kind of food. You’ll want to explore the world of beer/food pairing once you learn to recognize the taste profiles the diversity of craft beers offers (just think of it … Belgian style triples, Oktoberfests, witbier, Imperial IPAs, blonde ales and so many more).
Matching food and beer will take time and experience, but there are some rules of thumb to keep in mind. Beers with a low flavor impact (such as a Kölsch or an American wheat ale) pair well with light foods such as fish and salad. Assertive beers (such as doppelbocks) go great with roasted and cured meats. It’s important to consider alcoholic strength (ABV), bitterness, sweetness and malt character. Learning about the ways different flavors interact will make your enjoyment of food and beer infinitely more enjoyable.
If you work in the restaurant business or retail sales, the Brewers Association Beer 101 course will equip you with a greater appreciation of a gastronomic pleasure that is as old as civilization itself. If you don’t know your ABV from your IBU, this completely online class will guide you through your first steps into the world of craft beer appreciation. Plus, knowing more about beer will look fantastic on your resume.