The growth of craft beers in the last ten years has been exponential, compared to the flat revenues of the major brewing companies. Companies such as Molson-Coors, AB-Inbev, and SAB-Miller are seeing declining sales of major brands and increases in niche market beers, or what they term '"imports." This, for many, is a step away from major domestic beers toward more "craft"-oriented styles.
In the U.S., craft beer is growing every year, and made up 7.2 percent of the industry output and 4.3 percent of sales in 2009. These growth rates are helping with the emergence of some bigger names in the craft beer market. Companies like Stone, Rogue, Dogfish Head, Sierra Nevada, and Sam Adams are all impacting the craft brewing market.
Nano- and Micro-Breweries
"The nanobrewer isn’t going to quit his day job. They are brewing because they love the process and want to share the results with the people in their neighborhoods." –Top Fermented
Home brewers are creating what they now call nanobreweries, which are small brewers that do not distribute their beers beyond a small group of friends. The term was one I first read about in a magazine, then started appearing in stories about some local Seattle brewers. Nanobrewing is also associated with restaurants or bars that want to serve some of their own brewed beer, but are not classified as a brewpub for licensing rules.
This is a trend that is not necessarily new, but there are now more beer drinkers who are accepting these styles of beer. Beer does not always have to be sweet; it can be induced with fruit to provide a sourness on the palate. The variety originated in Belgium and is now catching on in the U.S. Many brewers are creating sour styles as an alternative to their regular line-up of beers.
Some of the brewers that are developing a reputation for their sour beers are The Bruery (San Diego), Russian River (San Francisco), Avery (Denver), New Belgium (Denver), and Cascade (Portland).
As sour styles gain greater acceptance by a wider audience, new drinkers are trying these beers, which are often balanced like fine wines. Pairing these styles of beer with cheese can help create a perfect balance.
Locally-Produced Beer in Restaurants
Restaurants are seeing an emergence of trends that emphasize local products, produce, and alcohol choices. In a national survey, the National Restaurant Association found that 79 percent of restaurants viewed local wine and beer as a hot trend in 2010, and 62 percent of these surveyed viewed micro-brewed and craft beer as a hot trend.
Many restaurants still suffer from a lack of foresight with beer lists. Though some will spend a lot of time on their wine lists, the opposite is true with beer. There is no need to keep having Heineken or Budweiser when there are great local beers available, or craft beer from great brewers across the U.S.
One of the major areas through which craft brewers can obtain new drinkers is their labels or their creative names. A recent beer that I tried was "Missoula Moose Drool," and Stone "Arrogant Bastard" and "Ruination" are favorites in my household. Rather than using the traditional "English Ale" or calling beers by their styles, there is marketing sense in breweries creating niche names for their beers.
Marketing through labeling was perfected in the wine industry with brands such as Yellow Tail, which appealed to the American palate and featured a label that was easy to remember. Brewers in competitive markets are starting to create interesting names and labels to stand out.
You'd have to be living under a rock to not be aware of a Scottish brewery called BrewDog that created not only a beer that was 32 percent alcohol by volume, but also a 41 percent IPA. These are the most alcoholic beers in the world, and are at the far end of "extreme." In the U.S. there is the Sam Adams Utopia beer that is 27 percent and retails for $125.
Extreme brewing is an area in which Americans are taking the reins and creating beers that have no rules. There were 30+ Imperial Beers in the top 50 beers of 2009 in ratebeer.com's rankings. Imperial IPAs and Imperial Stouts/Porters are part of the American beer scene now and will only keep increasing.
Without doubt, beers that are not technically correct or brewed to an exact recipe are what many small brewers are going to be trying. An IPA is an India Pale Ale, but now with the American Imperial IPA, or Double IPA, new versions of old beers are being created daily.
Beers are being wood aged, having whiskey added to them, and having fruit introduced during fermentation. Craft brewers are adding adjunct ingredients such as peanut butter, chilies, spices, tea leaves, and anything else that will help provide a new flavor or texture. Brewers call these "fun" or "experimental" batches. Some of these batches work, where others don't. But that is why craft brewers are leading the drinks market in growth. They are trying.
This trend will without doubt continue with breweries working with others from across the country or globe. Recent examples include Life & Limb, from Dogfish Head and Sierra Nevada, as well as a collaboration between Stone Brewing and BrewDog (Scotland).
These beers are turning into sought-after collector's items, and they help provide great publicity to breweries involved.