I have been eagerly drinking in Tom Oetinger’s column, “Wine Lovers”. (Yes, I worked hard on that pun.) He explains wine varietals, shares monthly recommendations, and highlights local wine venues. In his January article he explains his passion:
“One of my favorite things about being involved in the wine business is the endless varieties and options that are available. Exploring different grapes, regions and even vintages keeps my interest fresh. While I do have certain favorites I cannot imagine opening the same wine night after night.”
This vast variety is what draws many Oenophiles. This same degree of variety exists in the craft beer world. Sadly, those of us passionate about craft beer don’t have a sophisticated moniker like Oenophile. A commonly used name is Beer Snob. That is a pretty ironic name when you consider the difference between the wine world and the beer world. Traditionally, wine lovers were considered to exude a level of snobbery that beer lovers shunned. Whatever name you use, I am passionate about craft beer and want to share that with the Saddlebag readers. Feel free to call me a Beer Snob.
Let’s start with some definitions. What is not craft beer? Beer from major brewing corporations are not craft beer. Depending on where along the Mason-Dixon line you fall, beer has been defined by Miller or Busch for generations. In the last decade, the jockeying of these corporate brewers plays like a shell game. Anheuser-Busch became InBev, Miller became SABMiller and then MillerCoors, InBev bought MillerCoors...around and around it goes. In 2019, the top three corporate brewers in the world are Anheuser-Busch InBev, Heineken and China Resources Snow.
Well then, what is craft beer? The Brewers Association a non-profit trade organization of brewers, for brewers and by brewers defines it this way:
"An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional."
"Small representing an annual production of 6 million barrels or less."
"Independent meaning less than 25% of the brewery is owned or controlled by a large alcoholic beverage corporation. Traditional being beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation."
The boundary lines between “truly” craft beer and supposed “sell-outs” are blurry and make great fodder for barstool pontificating. For our purposes, if the American brewery is not owned by one of the Big Three, we will call it craft beer.
The craft beer industry is still fledgling compared to the corporate players. However, their numbers are growing every day. What beer snobs are looking for is very similar to what wine lovers seek. It is unique, well-made, authentic beverages. To a great extent, we can thank Millennials for the meteoric growth of craft breweries. Whether it is beer, wine, liquor or coffee, Millennials focus on quality above all else. They are happy to spend a bit more if it means a high quality product. And if that product is a little bit “in the face” of the big guys, all the better.
But first let me introduce myself. My “beer career” started in Milwaukee, Wisconsin home of The Fonz, Laverne and Shirley and of course, Miller Brewing. As Miller went through its various corporate manifestations, I was learning about craft beer and home-brewing from my Millennial sons. Gradually I started to develop a knowledge, passion and palate for beer beyond Miller Lite.
And Beer Snobs have a vernacular of beer words just like wine lovers. In future articles we will break these words down and you will be speaking craft beer in no time. As you can see there is plenty to learn and share about the craft beer industry. I will cover local hotspots, far-flung beer destinations, new style trends and old favorites. Hopefully you will learn something new, discover something to try out and most importantly meet kindred Beer Snobs.
Until then, push the envelope and discover a new craft beer near you.