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The Renaissance Of American Craft Beer

With John Harwood in for Tom Ashbrook.

A look and a taste of American craft beer, in its renaissance.

NYC Craft Beer Week 2009 (Flickr/ZagatBuzz)

NYC Craft Beer Week 2009 (Flickr/ZagatBuzz)

For a growing number of Americans, “This Bud’s NOT for you.” That’s because the relatively new phenomenon of craft beers is reshaping the industry – putting distinctive brews with unconventional flavors in competition with familiar name brand giants. It’s less than 10% of all beer sold in the country, but growing fast. Are you part of their target audience? Are the big brands too dull for your tastes? How about a little garlic beer? Or would you prefer coffee flavor?

This hour, On Point: we quench our thirst to learn about craft beers.


Andy Crouch, author of, “Great American Craft Beer”  and “The Good Beer Guide to New England.” He is also a columnist for BeerAdvocate Magazine. (@BeerScribe)

Barnaby Struve, Vice President of 3 Floyds Brewing Company, in Munster, Indiana.

Tonya Cornett, Brewmaster at 10 Barrel Brewing Company in Bend, Oregon. She is the only woman to have received the Brewmaster Award at the Annual World Beer Cup competition, winning in 2008. (@Chickbrewer)

From the Reading List

Time: You’ll Never Guess Where the Nation’s Best Craft Beer Is Brewed — “The top 25 also includes the nation’s three largest craft brewers, the Boston Beer Company (maker of Samuel Adams), California’s Sierra Nevada, and Colorado’s New Belgium Brewing, ranking on TheDailyMeal’s list at #20, #10, and #6, respectively. Surely, there will be plenty of discussion concerning whether Dogfish Head is truly the nation’s best craft brewer, and what terrific craft brewers didn’t made the cut. Of the nation’s top three craft brewing states per capita (Vermont, Oregon, Montana), there is just one representative on the list: Rogues Ales, based in Portland, Ore.”

Draft Magazine: Will it fall? A look at America’s brewery boom — “Here is a picture of our brewing nation: Prolific taphouses multiply, while both upscale restaurants and corner dives add drafts and bottle lists. Those lists often feature new names, as different towns and neighborhoods—many of which never had breweries before—get their own microbreweries or brewpubs. Those that already had breweries are getting more, becoming destination areas for savvy drinkers. Meanwhile, shops are packing their shelves with more brands from near and far. More, more and more. Happy times, right? So why do the folks who make and sell this stuff seem so, well, nervous?”

The New York Times:  For Craft Brewers, New Law Opens Door to Competitive Market – “The efforts of Infamous Brewing and other craft brewers to gain a foothold in the Texas market received help this year with the biggest legislative overhaul the industry has seen in 20 years. Lawmakers this year approved legislation that allows small breweries to sell their products to customers to drink in the brewery’s tasting room. The old law prohibited any direct sales by a brewery, requiring samples to be free. Now these breweries can sell up to 5,000 barrels at in-house bars and beer gardens.”

John’s Craft Beer List

On air, guest host John Harwood sampled:

Notch Brewing Session Ale (Ipswich, MA)
Oskar Blues Mama’s Little Yella Pils (Longmont, Colorado)
Dogfish Head Festina Peche (Milton, Delaware)
Ballast Point Brewing Sculpin IPA (San Diego, CA)
Berkshire Brewing Coffeehouse Porter (South Deerfield, MA)

Our beer samples. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Our beer samples. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

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  • Jasoturner

    “Craft” beer is simply real beer without the rice and other stuff they put in American style lagers, so I’m not sure it needs to held up as some exotic creature that we need to discover. Indeed, most home brewers can make a beer that stands up just fine to craft beers.

    That said, it is encouraging that more Americans are developing a taste for real beer made of malt, hops, water and yeast. It is simply so much more enjoyable to explore beers that have substantive flavors and aromas.

    Coincidentally enough, I was on Monhegan Island last weekend and a teeny microbrewery is now operating on the island! Incredible. The beer was pretty good, too. The IPA was reminiscent of the stuff from the Cambridge Brewery, which is not a complaint at all.

    • geraldfnord

      Again, refusal to consume crap is not a bad thing, and paying attention to what you consume is part of the lived self-respect necessary to dealing with life on anything like an equal footing. It can become an obsession, or the occasion of snobbery, but anything good can do so, so though those are real and evident problems in the craft beer community, they are not at all peculiar to it, just normal all-too-human tendencies.

  • adks12020

    The beer on the taps in the picture is from Brewery Ommegang in Cooperstown, New York….and it’s fantastic stuff.

  • Bluejay2fly

    It is not a Renaissance if all they seem to make is ale! I wish microbreweries would offer more lagers, porters, stout, pilsner, or bock beer. We had a local brewery once make a bacon porter that was awesome but most of the time its a choice of four different levels of hoppy and dry ale. The same beer drinking crowd that turned the American beer drinking market into an array of flavorless lagers has now got us drinking expensive IPA’s, Thanks!

    • adks12020

      I don’t know where you live but there are tons of microbreweries, all over the country, making great pilsners, lagers, porters, stouts, and bocks. I love dark beer and have no problem finding a wide variety of beers that aren’t pale ales and ipas.

      • Bluejay2fly

        I travel a lot and while finding a bock beer, porter or a pilsner is much more difficult it is not entirely impossible. My complaint is that many upstarts are producing what sells as a means of economic survival and that usually means ales, wheat beers, and dark beers. Look at the sponsors website and see the ratio of ales, darks, and wheats to others to understand my point. In restaurants it’s really hard to find something outside that paradigm because the bulk of craft beers slants in that direction.

  • John Cedar

    This is all part of the loss of a middle class. Folks are so pour that they need to make their own beer instead of buying it in a can anymore. Only the top one percent can afford beer that the masses used to drink. The bottom 99 percent wants it in the can but can’t get it, so they find another way.

    • geraldfnord

      Uhhh, no: it seems largely to be an upper-middle-class affectation—and ‘the beer the masses used to drink’, if the past fifty years’ beer were meant, is definitely _not_ the beer at which craft brewers are aiming. If anything, it’s a sign of the decline of the middle-class in that drinking and brewing craft beer has become a signifier that one _isn’t_ in the lower classes who must accept the cheap, crappy, beer (and food, and clothing, and education) that they can afford—either one is above that level economically, or one is actually as poor as other people but ‘having taste’ distinguishes you from ‘trash’. (I’m thinking of Terry Pratchett’s character musing on how his neighbourhood were just as poor as everyone else in their area of town, but _they_ always white-washed their stoops, and that made a _big_ difference…and helped to reconcile them to being poor.)

      I’m sorry if that were over-harsh, on either account: I agree that the loss of much of the middle class is our most serious problem not directly involving the oceans’ dying and the weather getting hot and/or chaotic, I just don’t think that this is a symptom for the reason you stated. And actually, though I don’t like any beer, people I know and love are heavily into craft beer, and I admire their paying attention to what they drink so long as it doesn’t turn into yet another way to be ‘better’ than everyone else—but that can only be a danger, when…well, always, at least when you’re talking about human beings

    • fun bobby

      ? you can get a 30 rack for like eleven bucks. its about as cheap as water. making beer is a past time for the idle middle class, wealthy and teenagers. you need expensive equipment and space (in general, I don’t know anyone else who was able to brew in their dorm room) and free time to brew beer.

  • andrewgarrett

    Yes, in some ways it’s the best time to be a beer drinker ever, but a lot of that is thanks to the store carrying wider variety. A lot of what you buy at the brewerys themselves are gimmicks – really, really hoppy beer, for instance (akin to a chef trying to make the saltiest dish ever served). The same is true at the store, but you have more choices.

    • Bluejay2fly

      The same increase in choice can be said about coffee. However, as a coffee lover I am so tired of waiting in line for some middle class coffee snob to decide which coffee milk shake they are going to order (try drinking it black with no sugar and taste what you are drinking!). My point is many of these consumers of craft beer are like the coffee crowd and only know cloudy (wheat beers) or hoppy. I still concede your point that more choice is better and on occasion I can find something unusual ,but the target market these micro breweries are aiming at have a slightly less shallow appreciation for fine beer than their predecessors.

      • fun bobby

        which class of coffee snob are you? cloudy beers are an excellent source of vitamin B. i’m sipping a cloudy and hoppy unfiltered IPA right now but I won’t poo poo a PBR

        • Bluejay2fly

          I drink just about any coffee but do not like the burned taste of Starbucks and Dunkin. What I cannot tolerate is people messing up the ratio’s. Cappuccino is a drink of 3rds with equal parts of milk, foam, espresso. I have been to places where you get 7 or 8 oz of milk. This is in order to facilitate a huge mug. I have also seen bar tenders do this with mixed drinks. NO, your not giving me a good deal by making me a larger drink your ruining it by messing up the ratio’s. PS I love cloudy beers but they trigger my migraines. If you like them try Leffe

  • geraldfnord

    (Sorry to over-post.)
    I enjoy these shows, and similar shows that pop up every few months in Seattle’s, L.A.’s, San Francisco’s, and the Research Triangle’s local shows (thanks, Internet radio)…but I can’t shake the feeling that these are go-to shows trotted-out when things are slow or people on vacation, sort of the equivalent of the authors or pundits in New York or L.A. who are ready to fill-in as guests on chat shows when the scheduled guest falls-through.

    I also can’t shake the suspicion that they are liked because the host can get to taste some beer (and fill some air-time joking about tasting beer—and they’re entitled to both), craft brewers are as interesting as many people who are very interested in something (but who have to deal with the public a lot, so they don’t come off like aspies [like me]), and (to be frank) craft beer is a class signifier of a prime N.P.R. donor demographic. Again, I don’t mind, they’re good shows, but this is the sixth or so I’ve heard in the past year, and I enjoy speculating on why this were so….

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      Over-posting about beer?

      I didn’t know there was such a thing!

    • AP

      lighten up and have a beer!

  • Fred_in_Newton_MA

    Tastes change, or at least mine has. Happened to be in a local store holding a craft beer tasting a few years ago, & did not find the brews appealing. Suspect it was my inexperience beyond the ones I grew up with (Molson’s, Utica Club, etc). Today, different story. Really like many of the brews & the others expand the palette.

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      I wonder if you, like I, drank more beer around your early 20s than you do now.

      “Less quantity = more experimentation” was a path I got on for beer.

      • Fred_in_Newton_MA

        Not really, was an occasional drinker, usually event related. My wife and I have, to some extent, replaced wine consumption with craft beer.

  • http://lewbryson.blogspot.com LewBryson

    Two session beers, Andy? Way to pick ‘em, man! WooHoo!

  • Kevin Lappe

    One concerning change over the past few years, has been the big brewers buying up successful microbrewers. Consider the stake MillerCoors bought in Terrapin Brewing and the acquisition of Goose Island by Anheuser-Busch. If you look at the labeling and marketing of these brands, they do not list the majority owners on either.

    It’s a sneaky back door way for these big brewers to get some skin in the game. What bars seems to end up with as offerings is a bland selection of micro-ish beers, promoted with a bottomless budget. Perhaps it may be good for micro/nano brewers in the long run; short run, we all get stuck with less local options, as the big brewers crowd out valued shelf/cooler space.

    • adks12020

      It’s true but also think of it from the perspective of a company like Goose Island. There is no way they could’ve expanded like they did without financial assistance from a big company and they still put out one heck of a good product. Their Belgian beers are fantastic. I love Matilda. As long as they continue to be involved in management I hope their product won’t suffer.

    • AP

      If it tastes good – i will drink it. Could care less who makes it.

    • fun bobby

      and some forigners bought up that boutique brewer known as budwieser! this sort of thing happens in capitalism it goes in cycles. same thing happens with banks

  • TheDailyBuzzherd

    Victory, from the town that gave us, “The Blob”.


    All’s you needs to knows.

  • Art Toegemann

    I like organic beers from Wolaver’s and Peak.
    Related: someone teach the bars to serve beer at room temperature in the winter.

    • Thomas Cizauskas

      I certainly hope not. Room temperature, i.e. 70 *F +, is not a palatable temperature, even for red wine. Fortunately, very few in the world, and no one in the British/Belgian/German region, serve beer so warm. Instead they serve it at cellar temperature, in the upper 40s to low 50s, which is quite refreshing, and not so cold as to mask flavors.

      • Art Toegemann

        Search engine says otherwise.

  • atakemoto

    I’m a big fan of IPAs, especially Dogfish Head 60 Minute, Nectar, and Devil’s Backbone 8 Point Buck. I’ve recently been turned on to some delicious stouts with hints of chocolate and coffee. As a working class stiff, I find the cost of a good beer very affordable.

    • StilllHere

      Look out for Hopaplicious from Madison, Hop Czar from Portland, OR, Rampant Imperial from Fort Collins, Torpedo from Chico, Maximus from Petaluma. The hoppier, the happier.

  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

    The caller at 26 minutes mentioned the advertising and also “drinking whatever is cheap” when he was younger.

    When talking about what class drinks what, I would like to know if the “80/20″ rule* still holds. Axiomatic, or just an old brewer’s wives’ tale?

    (*Twenty percent of the beer drinkers consume eighty percent of the beer sold.)

  • MarkVII88

    Light beer is for people who don’t like beer. Light beer is also for that guy at the bar trying to pick up women who keeps buying them long-island iced teas while himself staying in-control. And if you truly want to lose weight, you shouldn’t drink beer at all. All that being said…I absolutely love Heady Topper from The Alchemist in Waterbury, Vermont!!!

    • fun bobby

      if you can’t appreciate a fine pilsner you don’t like beer.

  • Arthur

    Is there beer terroir?

    • http://profile.yahoo.com/JXSANCUDPIKQSPID5KT2U4XK5Y TF

      I’ve been told that the water makeup matters when brewing, while on a brewery tour.

      • Arthur

        I’d think so. Also interesting that craft beer has seasonal availability.

    • Patrick Dunn

      Absolutely. Water is a huge part of the beer, and native conditions (see: Burton-upon-Trent and Plzen) have historically shaped the local beer.

      Personally, I find indigenous yeasts and bacteria (see: Senne Valley) an exciting, relatively untapped source of terroir.

  • tbphkm33

    I wish more liquor stores had taps to fill growlers. Nothing better than fresh beer, plus a great way for local breweries to reach the market.

    • fun bobby

      life can be hard sometimes.

  • adks12020

    Maybe, but I will definitely try my best to keep them in business….will you?

  • Bluejay2fly

    So true, so the hell with artistry and let’s commence mass marketing. I am off now with my growler to the local brewery and this time it comes home empty if it’s a selection of four increasingly hoppier ales again.BTW is 10.00 for a growler pricey?

  • spages

    Wisconsin has great beer! i love http://www.newglarusbrewing.com/

  • fun bobby

    I got some wachussett blueberry in a can the other day. it was pretty good, like a not too sweet grape soda or something

    • Bluejay2fly

      I had it on tap in Boston way better.

      • fun bobby

        it was fresh from the brewery that afternoon. I am not a fan of cans but this had not been sitting in it for very long. nice after a hot day

  • fun bobby

    “relatively new phenomenon of craft beers”
    unless you count the plethora of local and regional brewers destroyed by alcohol prohibition

  • fun bobby

    I do have a lot of dandelions how much do you need to brew a batch

  • David Tambeaux

    You might want to venture outside your front door before you make the assertion the central Texas is the hotbed of craft brewing. The cognescenti would disagree. Otherwise I share your enthusiasm for the great rennaissance in American brewing, that has been happening over the last 30-40 years.

  • Regular_Listener

    If you all want to learn something about beer, go to ratebeer.com.

  • Regular_Listener

    Craft beer from Texas? I haven’t seen it around much – I’ve yet to have a really good beer from Texas. There are new breweries springing up in the South that make good beer, like Cigar City for example. Some of the best beer seems to come from the Midwest – Michigan in particular. Vermont has some very good brews available, but the rest of New England is not the greatest. New York has some good ones, with new ones opening all the time. Colorado is big on craft brew, but not everything from there is superior. California of course has a number of excellent craft breweries, like Stone and Ballast Point.

  • Regular_Listener

    I forgot to mention the Philadelphia area, a big beer town that has a long tradition of making great beer, and where the mayor himself kicks off Philly Beer Week every June.

  • Jeff Chrisler

    seriously man, you have no idea. i’m sure that area is great, but you can’t honestly say that without backing it up. in boulder, colorado alone there are 40+ craft breweries in a town of around 100,000 people. per capita, that has to be up there, but i won’t claim it is the most prolific however.

  • Jeff Chrisler

    perhaps for growth yes, but your link shows that montana, oregon, vermont, colorado and others are quite a bit ahead in the craft breweries per 500k people department. hee hee.. we win… so far :)

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