Trying to define craft beer is a difficult task, as beer can be very subjective and personal experience. However, the Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade group that protects and promotes small and independent U.S. brewers, defines an American craft brewer. This definition allows the organization to provide statistics on the growing craft brewery segment, which currently makes up 98 percent of all breweries in the U.S. Now is the best time in U.S. history to be a craft beer lover. As a nation, the U.S. now has more beer styles (150+) and brands (20,000+) to choose from than any other market in the world. As of early 2018, more than 6,000 breweries are responsible for the beer brands available in the U.S. These breweries have had many successes and challenges, but they could not have developed their reputations as producers of the world’s best beer without support from beer lovers.

What are the main ingredients in beer?

Short answer is Water, Yeast, Malt, Hops and some other stuff.

  • Water. As is the case with our bodies, the most abundant ingredient in beer is water. Over 95% of your brew is made up of water. With such a large amount of your final product coming from a single ingredient, you can imagine how important it is to use good water.
  • Yeast is the engine that makes the whole process go (without yeast, you would just have a sweet, brown, tea-like substance with no alcohol… I shudder at the thought).  Yeasts, part of the fungus family, are single-celled living organisms that eat sugars and convert them into alcohol and carbon dioxide through the wonderful and amazing process called fermentation.
  • Malted barley is really nothing more than barley grains that have been soaked in water until they first begin to sprout.  When the barley begins to sprout it draws on its starch reserves, which are transformed into simple sugars. This is the food we will be feeding on the yeast later.  The barley is then dried and cured, creating a perfect source of sugar and soluble starches for the fermentation.
  • Hops are the “conelike” flowers that come from this vining plant.  There are over 50 different recognized varieties of hops with names like Saaz and East Kent Goldings. Hops are used in beer much the same way spices are used in cooking – to enhance the flavor and smell of the final product.
  • Other Stuff – Beyond the four basic ingredients of beer mentioned above, there are a number of other flavorings and additives that can be added to beers to create different styles, flavors, and characters.

What is the difference between an Ale and a Lager?

Ales, the oldest beers in the world, have been around thousands of years longer than lagers.  Looking back at the history of beer, civilizations as far back as the Sumerians and Egyptians have been brewing and drinking what would be considered ales.  Lagers, on the other hand, may have only been around since the mid-nineteenth century.  However, many have speculated that “lagering” may have been “discovered” as far back as the Dark Ages, when some European brewers may have stored their beer in ice caves for later consumption. What they found was that the beer that was stored and fermented cold had a much clearer and cleaner beer “free from haziness”.

The main difference between ales and lagers is the type of yeast used in the brewing process, which in turn dictates what ingredients and techniques can be used.

What is meant by beer styles or beer types?

Identifying craft beer begins with understanding the idea of “style” (beer style or beer types).  As you explore, it is not always as simple and straightforward as one might think.  Some people have compared the wine drinker’s use of grape styles to that of the beer drinker’s use of classifying beer styles.  While this may be a convenient device for the discussion of wine, it is wholly inadequate when discussing beer.

I use the term “style” to describe a general classification of beer that helps to define a beer by ingredients, color, aroma, yeast type, brewing methods, bitterness, originating region, and overall flavor.  In order for a beer to be considered within that style, it must fit, at least loosely, into these general parameters.