Entering the craft beer community can be overwhelming for the uninitiated. There’s dynamic lingo, fluctuating trends and a variety of flavors to learn and love. If you are new to craft beer it can seem like everyone boarded the train years ago; they already know the whole culture and you’re still trying to wrap your head around a range of ABVs and IBUs.
It’s never too late to join the scene. You don’t have to pass a lab practical in chemistry to enjoy a great craft beer (though the science of zymurgy is cool and worth exploring). Of all the trials by fire we experience in life, joining the world of craft beer is one of the tastiest. Here’s a crash course from a sophomore who’s learning right alongside you.
One of my first brewery tours began in the tasting room with four samples. Our guide walked us through the steps of tasting, looking at color and clarity, breathing the scent. And lastly, before taking a sip, he told us to listen to the bubbles. A room of skeptical, but obedient, tourists lifted their glasses to their ears. The guide laughed. “I’m just kidding.”
With one joke, this tour guide had disarmed some of the pretension surrounding beer tasting and established instant rapport with his audience. I often recall how he demystified craft beer with straightforward narration and levity. It’s a great reminder that, ultimately, beer is about enjoyment.
- Small is a matter of production: no more than six million barrels of beer annually.
- Independent refers to the ownership, which must be less than 25% owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member.
- Traditional is a tricky one. The majority of the total beverage alcohol volume must derive from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. What does that mean? While innovation is encouraged, the beverage must be recognizably beer. That means building off a basic recipe of grains, hops, yeast, and water.
Cider and mead are not beer and therefore not eligible for craft beer consideration. Lambics, however, and other beers flavored with fruit or honey can be craft beers, provided the brewer meets the other criteria. Hard Lemonade or Soda? Not craft beer.
You may come across malt beverages that walk and talk like a craft beer, but their membership pin depends on the factors above.