The statistics are proving what beer enthusiasts have long assumed – while beer as the major category of all alcoholic beverages is slightly declining (by .04% in 2005) craft beer is indeed booming in popularity. For the 36th straight year craft beer has gown in popularity – up 8% in 2004, 9% in 2005 and the early results suggest the craft beer segment has grown to 11% in 2006). Craft beer now makes up 3.4% of the US beer market – which is over 6 million barrels (186 million gallons!).
So why is America now turning to better beer?
Beer is a common staple food substance with roots in family nourishment back to 4000 BC. As you Beer Appreciators know, arguments can be made that civilization itself was organized around grain fields and fresh water required to make beer. Like other daily staples – bread, coffee, tea, chocolate these foods originated as home made parts of a family’s daily life and activities – and became essential commodities of the American lifestyle. The industrial revolution introduced new technologies like refrigeration and mass production factories along with new distribution capabilities enabled by rail travel and the highway system. This helped turn these household staples into “national products” and big businesses.
In the post WWII society, just about everyone wanted to conform to “the American Way” – and they embraced the commonly available generic products they saw advertised on TV by their hero’s and movie stars. Wonderbread, Maxwell House, Hershey’s, Lipton and Budweiser were in every home. Sure there were other brands, but it took a real expert to actually tell the difference between Maxwell House and Choc Full o’ Nuts or Budweiser and Schlitz.
In the 1980’s and 90’s the attitude of the country was very different. The Internet age gave consumers the choice – ability to select anything they wanted anyway they liked. Non-conformism was “in” as were “extreme” products created for a niche that proved they were willing to pay a little extra to get just what they wanted. “Virtual Experts” popped up connecting people with common interests. People rejected the old fashioned belief that “what’s good for General Motors is good for America” and looked to home made, imported and craft made alternatives.
If you wanted artesian chocolate cherry pumpernickel bread, mocha java and white Chai tea – no problem. By 2000 these “extreme” products migrated from the Atlanta Bread Companies and Starbuck’s specialty shops right into the grocery stores. Remember back when you drank tap water?
So as far as beers – if you want Pumpkin flavored ale in the fall, crisp wheat ales in the summer and chocolate stout in the winter – well why not? Drop by brewpub and have a craft brewed beer with your hamburger, or head to a fine local restaurant like Gullifty’s for a fine imported Belgian Ale or California hoppy delight like Stone’s Ruination.
Sure there’s still a lot of Wonder Bread, Budweiser and Maxwell House consumers out there – and their products are consistently of good quality. But if you can afford a better more flavorful and interesting product, it’s now very accessible – so enjoy, and join America as it appreciates better beer.