Julia Herz Muses on 2013: The Craft Beer Revolution Evolves

By Julia Herz

What a year it has been for small brewers and our beloved craft beer! I was asked about the cause and future of the craft beer revolution so often this year that I found myself sipping and searching for answers more intently than ever before. The simplest answer I could come up with (and that I will breakdown in this post) is that full-flavored, small batch beers are a gastronomic experience that help satisfy our need to take part in something truly special and support local businesses all at the same time—it’s a meaningful pursuit.

Here is a genius statement that hits the nail on the head and gets at the deeper meaning behind craft beer:

“Any brand that can provide a meaningful bridge between our idealized identities and cultural reality will be a marketplace success. We all want a life that is remarkable, but only a rare few do not feel short changed at least at some level. We then use stories to overcome life’s contradictions. We sort things out with parables from religion, folklore, the arts, pop culture, sports, politics, and, yes, consumer brands. In beer, craft is only currently the most poignant storyteller.” -Greg Owsley of Storied Brand, published in Beer Business Daily.

Wow! Does this ring true to why you love your local breweries so much? Sure, the above sounds like marketing speak, but this little hymn helps hammer home the why. I like to say what feels good tastes even better, and this sentiment, coupled with the fact that craft beer comes from small and independent businesses making world class, fermented beverages truly sums up craft beer’s success in 2013.

Here are my top observations from the past year on the continued advancement of the craft beer revolution.

Beer’s Future Looks Bright

In 2013, craft breweries continued to convert the uninitiated and further engage those already in their beery tribes.

In the past decade, craft brewers have averaged 9.3 percent growth a year, despite a challenged economy and tighter purse strings. To put that into perspective, the overall beer category has declined at an average rate of 0.2 percent—mostly a result of the top 10 U.S. beer brands losing market share. This is a true sign of the cultural shift in the beer landscape.

From coming of age millennials to cross drinking winos and foodies, craft beer is finally and fully being recognized in every subset of the beverage and culinary worlds.

Did anyone else have one of those watershed moments in 2013 when a friend or family member finally opened their mind to craft beer? All the flavor stars aligned, and once that happened, there was no turning back. With a positive palate memory now logged, the newly indoctrinated move forward less cautiously, confident in experimenting in the world of craft beer. I saw this phenomena happen more in 2013 than any other year.

Praise for Our Beloved Better Beer Providers

One source recently shared that the number of tap handles in the U.S. has doubled in the last five years. Today’s better beer providers (establishments that have expanded beer selections beyond just light American lager) are truly helping take beer to the next level.

According to a recent Technomic survey, more than half of consumers (56 percent) agree that it is important for a restaurant or bar to offer a wide variety of craft beers, and half (49 percent) say they will go to a particular establishment because of its craft beer selection. Plus flavor was the most important attribute of a craft beer according to 86 percent of those surveyed. Food was important to half of the consumers ordering craft beer (54 percent) and was particularly important to Millennials (65 percent).

The importance of the restaurant and bar aspect of the beer industry is clearly seen when we take a look at the most popular post on this website in 2013, “CraftBeer.com’s Great American Beer Bars.” CraftBeer.com asked readers to nominate their favorite craft beer bars in the country and received more than 5,000 nominations and 37,000 individual votes. Amazing! These business are are integral part of the health and growth of beer.

Beer Education is Key

Every December, we take a look back at the most popular topics from the past year. The posts that garnered the most attention show the thirst for information is extremely healthy. There is so much to learn about the many layers of craft beer, and CraftBeer.com writers excited to share more with you in 2014!

Field To Keg Flourishes

The beverage of beer is living liquid history, and the result of sweat equity from hop and barley farmers, maltsters and our brewers of today.

Brewers are more in touch with their ingredients and where they came from than ever before. There are literally thousands of ingredients that can be used when creating beer, and as a beer lover, these endless options mean endless tastes and characteristics to experience.

As Dave Engbers, co-founder of Founders Brewing Company said, “Let’s make beers that we want to drink. Beers that are bigger, bolder and more complex.” And yes, Dave we beer lovers want to drink them too!

Seasonal and local ingredients like pumpkin, coffee and chocolate usually get the majority of the attention—and rightfully so, they make for some amazing and interesting flavor combinations. It’s also important to pay homage to the main ingredients in beer (malt, hops and yeast) that provide the base and soul of craft beer.

For the first time in 2013, a group of micro-malsters banded together to collectively share a louder voice by creating the The North American Craft-Maltsters Guild. Learn more about this new group in “Craft Maltsters Finally Have a Voice!” Stay tuned as the agricultural side of craft beer continues to flourish.

Increasing Number of Breweries

There are more breweries in America today than at any other point in our nation’s history, and 98 percent of the 2,700 breweries are small and independent craft brewers.

Plus, in 2013 we documented over 1,700 breweries in planning, which is more than the Brewers Association (publishers of CraftBeer.com) have ever recorded.

Now before you go down the rabbit hole of wondering if there are too many breweries, realize that the U.S. has an estimated 7,000 wineries, responsible for a much lower number of sales. Wine accounts for an estimated $35 billion in sales in the U.S. compared to $100 billion in beer. Yes my friends, we are a beer-loving nation first and foremost.

Increasing Number of Beer Styles

Today the Brewers Association documents 142 beer styles, 138 of those were judged at the 2013 Great American Beer Festival. That is a staggering number of styles!

The India pale ale (and subsets of this style) continues to reign supreme as the most popular craft beer style in the U.S., but seasonal releases continue to grow in popularity. See our most recent list of winter seasonals in “Winter Craft Beers are Comin’ to Town.”

There is a wider variety of beer lovers and styles than ever before. Diversity is demanded by appreciators and that diversity is what is evolving the entire beverage of beer.

Cheers to 2013!

My friends, it’s a taster’s paradise out there! The majority of Americans live within 10 miles of a brewery, so experiencing craft beer fresh from the source is easier than ever.

Bottom line, thank your lucky stars that the U.S. is now the number one beer destination in the world. We have the opportunity to ferociously explore beer like never before. Cheers to an amazing year for craft beer!

Julia Herz, Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, is a homebrewer, BJCP beer judge and Certified Cicerone®. Despite her extensive experience, she will always consider herself a beer beginner on an unending journey to learn more about craft beer.

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