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Lush Life | Beer consumption making a comeback thanks to craft brews

Craft beer taps at the Grumpy Monk. The Sun News file photo.
Craft beer taps at the Grumpy Monk. The Sun News file photo. cslate@thesunnews.com

In 2012, beer consumption was down by nearly 5 percent nationwide. While wine and spirits were growing during this time, our beer consumption was shrinking at an almost alarming rate. If you ever doubted how fickle the beverage industry can be, take a look at what has happened in the beer world in just two years.

Growth in nearly every segment of beer has grown exponentially.

▪ Session IPA, India Pale Ales brewed at 5 percent alcohol by volume or less, grew at 323 percent in 2014.

▪ Redd’s Apple Ale out of Chicago grew 41 percent last year reaching $307 million in sales.

▪ Corona Extra grew at around 7 percent last year, but sales were a staggering $1.3 billion in the United States.

Why has beer consumption taking a drastic upswing in just two years?

Craft beer is to blame.

2 million barrels per year craft breweries produce

We have developed a longing for local, natural, unique and fresh. These are excellent trends that we can all get behind. When you couple these ideals in food and beverage consumption with the favorable laws for brewing beer in the Carolinas, the drinking climate is perfect for a resurgence of the good stuff.

Local

Craft breweries, by definition, produce less than 2 million barrels per year, produces mostly malt beer and has no more than 25 percent of the business owned by an alcohol industry member who is not a brewer themselves.

This means that you can drink local beers that are made by people you might know, meet or see at the grocery store, as opposed to the brewery being owned by a massive corporation where a board of directors decides what goes into the beer, where it is made and how it is marketed.

Our image of the beer-guzzling American has turned into the beer-sipping aristocrat.

Craft breweries are places where passion and business collide. They are local businesses that rely heavily on local and regional support to maintain their business. The beauty of this model is that craft breweries produce some unique, delicious and story-driven beers.

Natural

Craft breweries use certain adjuncts that are designed to enhance the flavor. In larger corporate breweries, these ingredients are used to lighten the flavor to make the beer more marketable to the masses.

This is not the case with craft breweries. They seldom, if ever, put anything in the beer that does not impact the flavor.

Fruits, herbs, flowers and grains are all commonly used by craft brewers to achieve natural flavors that are unique. As our fascination with luxury continues, we view craft brewers as chefs in a way or mad scientists who create layers of flavors, textures and aromas in one bottle of beer.

We appreciate the work that goes into it. The fact that the ingredients are natural and, maybe, a little weird provokes our curiosity to the point of purchase.

Unique

Flavors for beer have never been more abundant. Utilizing regional and local ingredients to brew beer creates an extreme palate of possibility. Adding a hint of this or a touch of that makes for great seasonal brews, beer dinner pairings and cult classic beers.

Limited production means that allocation is a key marketing element. The idea of “once it is gone, that is it” is a great way to get our attention. It is also the very notion that keeps the craft beer movement going.

Brewers are pushing the envelope for flavor. They are getting more and more creative for the sake of flavor and not for the sake of simply being weird. Sales have become flavor-driven and that is what is pushing craft beer to the next level.

Fresh

Chances are, you can go to a bar near your house and drink a beer that was made less than 100 miles from that bar. Chances are, that very beer was delivered reasonably soon after it arrived at the distributor. Chances are, the brewer delivered it to the distributor.

There is no need for a “born on date” label when it comes to most craft beer. These breweries do not produce enough for there to be much excess sitting in warehouses for years on end. To a degree, beer is perishable. Light, temperature and pressure all play a role in the flavor of a beer while it is being shipped. Craft beer has a more streamlined effort to get the product to the drinker. You might even call it a more organic process.

Our taste in beer is continually shifting. We are in a place of refinement. We want the good stuff. Craft beer fills that void. Most have bolder flavors, higher ABV and cost a little more, but we do not mind as long as we are drinking something unique. Our image of the beer-guzzling American has turned into the beer-sipping aristocrat.

Beer drinkers are now seen as having a keen palate, sophisticated taste and a certain level of intellect whereas before, beer drinkers were big-bellied knobs yelling at the television. The complete overhaul of image has allowed for beer sales to skyrocket and businesses to take up shop producing some of the best brews in the world.

Who knows how long this will last, but, by most calculations, any decline will not be significant nor long-lasting. Craft brewers are making timeless beverages that are setting the bar, no pun intended, for what we expect in a beer. So much so that the large beer companies have started to emulate their effort.

But do not be fooled. A craft beer can not be faked.

Cheers!

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