What is Craft Beer?

by David A on May 18, 2011

Not All Beers Are Created Equally…

In celebration of American Craft Beer Week I decided to celebrate (in addition to enjoying delicious craft beers) by writing about what Craft Beer means to me.

To those reading this blog, you are probably already aware with what Craft Beer is. However, the everyday beer drinker and even a number of those who already enjoy Craft Beer may not actually know what the term “Craft Beer” really means.


1. an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill, especially manual skill

2. skill; dexterity

–verb (to be used with an object)

3. to make or manufacture (an object, objects, product, etc.) with skill and careful attention to detail.

To me, Craftbeer is exactly that; an art or occupation requiring special skill and even as a verb, to craft beer, or to make beer with skill and careful attention to detail. Sure brewing beer is a science but maybe more importantly it is an art. This is perfectly illustrated when comparing Macro beer to Craft beer. When you completely automate the process, are too large for your own good, and are more worried about sales and appeasing your shareholders than producing a final product you’re proud of, the result is a beer that is plain, lifeless and boring. On the contrary, craft beer is the perfect illustration to the art that is brewing. You have passionate craftsmen (and women), designing beers with love, labor and attention to detail and the end product is a unique, work of art that you, the beer drinker, get to enjoy!

Craft Beer, and more specifically a Craft Brewer, as defined by the Brewers Association,  is an American Brewery that is SmallIndependent and Traditional.

Small: The definition of small was recently changed from an annual production of 2 million barrels of beer to 6 million barrels or less. *See below on more regarding that.*

Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery may be owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer. Meaning, a Macro brewery may hold some investment in a craft brewery, however it must be less than 25 %.

Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor. This is pretty straight forward; selling beer must be your primary (or at least 50%) business and if you use adjuncts it must be to enhance the beer (berries, tea, twigs, oysters etc.) instead of lighten flavor (rice etc.)

Also, it’s important to note these are the requirements defined for AMERICAN Craft Breweries, as there is no international standard (to my knowledge) to define a craft brewery. Many other countries including Italy, New Zealand and Belgian have a larger number of emerging “craft breweries”.

Craft Beer is not the flavorless light yellow liquid in the vortex bottle, nor is it the one with the cold activated label! The difference is similar to the difference between fast food (McDonalds, Burger King, Taco Bell, etc) and a quality, local, mom and pop restaurant where the food is fresh and the service is great! There’s passion, it’s what these people WANT to do and that makes all the difference in the finished product. Ultimately, as is true so often in life, you get what you pay for! Craft beer is about love, giving back to your community, a passion for trying new things, a love of what you do! It’s said that the majority of Americans live within ten miles of a craft brewer, so get out there and celebrate American Craft Beer Week by drinking local, supporting your local breweries and brewpubs!



* regarding the definition change of “small” in January 2011 by the Brewers Association from 2 million barrels to 6 million (a barrel of beer is 31 gallons)., it is important to keep in mind that size is a relative term. 6 million barrels of beer may seem really big (and it is), however, it’s quite small relative to the overall size of the beer industry. The largest brewer in the U.S. is producing around 300 million barrels of beer globally every year.

Even with one Craft Brewer nearing the 2 million barrel mark (Sam Adams) and a few not too far behind (Sierra Nevada, New Belgium) the Craft brewed beer market share is still only approximately five percent of the U.S. beer industry. The Brewers Association commented that, “rather than removing members due to their success, the craft brewing industry should be celebrating our growth.” Which I agree with, as long as the quality, creativity, and great beers don’t suffer!


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