Musings On a Year of Craft Beer

By Julia Herz

It’s no surprise that beer from today’s small producers is hot! Their craft beers are packed with flavor and passion, and are a huge aspect of the food arts world. I’m looking back at the Craft Beer Muses written in 2011, as well as cruising through the Delicious account I keep on significant articles, to bring you my highlights from this year.

So here it goes—and cheers to even more excitement, growth and interest in craft beer in 2012.

Small and Big

America’s small, independent and traditional breweries continue to expand to keep up with demand, as large brewing companies see sales decline—forever changing us as a beer nation.

Number of Breweries

There are more breweries in planning than ever before: 855 known as of November 2011. Plus, more breweries exist now than since the late 1800s: 1,829.

Check out Brewers Association Director Paul Gatza’s summary of this year’s stats in “Craft Brewers Thrive as Beer Industry Approaches Tipping Point.”


Was 2011 the year of the brewpub? I can’t definitively state this for fact, because I personally feel brewpubs have not truly arrived until every food editor and Food Network star in the U.S. knows what a  growler is and has toured their local brewpub. But, of the 1,829 American breweries, 1,000 of them are brewpubs who are at the forefront of this craft and local beer movement.

Wine and Craft Beer

Wine lovers and chefs are starting to understand craft beer, enough said. Read for yourself in this update by’s Andy Sparhawk, “GQ’s Wine Guy, Alan Richman, Reveals He’s a Craft Beer Convert.”

Craft on Draught


Consumers are getting to know craft beer from their local breweries straight from the tap. Draught sales account for more than 30 percent of total sales by craft brewers—and this percentage continues to rise. For comparison, only about 10 percent of sales from the large brewing companies come from draught in restaurants.

Beer Service

With draught beer sales on the rise, proper beer service is all the more important. Maintenance of draught systems including regular line cleaning and clean glassware has become even more crucial. Any establishment or beer lover that prioritizes draught should be familiar with the Brewers Association Draught Quality Manual.

Women and Beer

I feel it’s fair to state there has been more talk on women who are into craft beer in 2011 than any year prior. Media outlets like The Wall Street Journal featuring powerhouse brewmaster Tonya Cornett (Bend Brewing Co.), and Slate Magazine’s article “The Hops Ceiling,” show this growing attention. Plus, women-only tastings groups are popping up in the beerscape like lilly pads on a healthy pond.

Hot Beer Styles in 2011

salesgfxBelgo/Wild: American wild ales are “off da hook,” and I refer to them as nothing short of immaculate in my feature, “Immaculate Fermentation: Science, not Sorcery.”

Saison: Just as we saw in 2010, it was again a summer of Saisons. Plus, we’re starting to see more of this style year-round. As a beer lover, I say bring on these complex farmhouse ales!

Seasonals: The slide to the right is fascinating and truly shows the reach of craft beer seasonals. Note: it only represents the more widely distributed breweries via scan data (where a UPC code is scanned at a cash register). Thus most brewpub sales are not represented. Data from Symphony IRI Group (year-to-date ending July 10, 2011).

Pumpkin Seasonals: Love them or leave them, pumpkin beers are growing in popularity and are available each fall. Check out “Who Needs Pumpkin Pie—Pumpkin Beers are Here!” from Web Editor Meghan Storey.

India Pale Ale: Speaking of hops, IPA’s continue to reign supreme over pale ales, proving that hop “bitterness” is a good thing, and no more or less important than acidity is to wine. Also, IPA has remained the most entered beer category at the Great American Beer Festival since 2001, with 176 entries in 2011.

Hops and Beer

Hops, as one of the four main ingredients in beer, have proven themselves to also be the favorite for some. The not-so “Secret Life of Hops” gained a large interest with nearly 1,000 Facebook “likes.” Also, Fresh or Wet Hop beers, using freshly harvested un-kilned hop cones, are absolutely on the rise, as seen in “The Beaujolais of Craft Beer.”

Black IPA, American Black Ale or Cascadian Dark Ale?

It’s hard to summarize the full debate that has gone on about this style, but in 2011, the discussion reached a new level for sure. Check out Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Company’s muse on this controversy, “In Defense of Language: or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Black IPA.”


The popularity of collaboration beers skyrocketed in 2011, and collaborations between brewer and beer lover is a growing trend too. Former Craft Beer Program Intern, Brittany Dern explores these interesting beers in “Peace, Love and Collabeeration.”


Resources and opportunities for education on craft beer in the U.S. is at an all-time high. American craft beer enthusiasts—and there are an ever-growing number of you—have more beer brands to enjoy than any other nation, over 13,000. Lester Jones of The Beer Institute stated that 1 in 10 of today’s U.S. beers enjoyed is a craft beer. Yowza!

Education Programs

Ray Daniels’ Cicerone™ Certification Program was on steroids this year, reaching 5,000+ Certified Beer Servers; 300+ Certified Cicerones and three Master Cicerones.


Master Brewers Association of America launched the new Beer Steward Certificate Program. This three-level course is designed to educate those who work in the beer industry.

Visit the Education section of to find out about available classes and programs. Start with’s Beer 101 Course, which has logged almost 1,000 participants. This on-line, one hour course and assessment comes with a certificate from the Brewers Association for those who earn 70 percent or above.

Beer and Food

How can I not bring up this topic? Craft Beer is helping beer reclaim its place at the dinner table, and today’s culinary professionals are starting to get it!’s Ryan Ferrell explores their world in, “Beer Chefs—Elevating Craft Beer Culture .”

Alternative Packaging

I feel OK declaring that 2011 was the year of alternative packaging, with growlers and canned craft beer becoming more popular than ever. Growler sales run the gamut from brewery taprooms and better beer providers, all the way to Whole Foods, proving that use of these unique packages will continue to grow. John Holl explores this world of creative beer packaging in “Gimme a Growler!

Canned beer used to be a trademark of the big boy breweries. Now, more than 400 different beers from 144 breweries are available in canned form, according to the diligent work of Russ Phillips with Russ is now providing regular updates to on the world of canned craft beer, “ November Update.”

Beer Weeks

acbw_vermontLocal Beer Weeks: 2011 had the most beer weeks ever, with tracking and talking-up more than 50. It’s simply fantastic that these localized weeks, dedicated to promoting smaller breweries, continue to thrive.

American Craft Beer Week: In 2011, The Mother of All Beer Weeks garnered coverage in The New York Times, USA Today, Fox News National (Fox and Friends), WBUR Boston, Food & Wine blog, and the Washington Post.

The social networking aspects to ACBW were stronger than ever, with 3,000+ tweets (#ACBW) and 2,800+ web mentions. Participants had more than 1,500 events to choose from on the official ACBW calendar, with events in all 50 states. And, the ACBW video  has now been viewed more than 18,000 times!

Get ready for next year’s American Craft Beer Week, May 14-20, 2012!

There’s so much more that I could highlight. Cheers to more greatness for our mighty small craft breweries in the coming year.

What other trends and craft beer milestones did you notice in 2011?

Julia Herz is the Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewers Association, co-author of the free Beer & Food Course, as well co-author of Beer Pairing (Voyageur Press). She is a life-long 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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