It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
I was merely a child but I'm sure you're old enough Bill to remember when drinkers in this
country had three main choices of beer: Budweiser, Miller or Coors. Oh, just teasing about the
age thing but I'm sure back then you swore you could tell the difference between those beers.
To tell the truth, so did I. Times obviously have changed. These days, there are more
breweries operating in the United States than any other time in our history — nearly 7,000.
These independent breweries are turning out thousands of beers across more than 100 widely
differing styles. This is truly the Golden Age of Beer by any standard thanks to craft brewing.
For many people like us “craft brewing” is synonymous with quality, and the big three macro
producers are the essence of the lack there of.. Correct me if I'm wrong Bill but you often wore
a t-shirt that said "Craft Beer Me" and another that read “Drink Craft, Not Crap.” I think you
even washed them once in a while.
Today craft accounts for about 15% of all beer consumed in the US and deservedly continues
to grow albeit at a reduced rate. Quality is winning but (you knew that "but" was coming) all is
not perfect out there. There is an increasing number of craft beer in the marketplace that
simply isn't that good.
Admit it Bill, you like me, have purchased "craft" beer that turned out to have a skunky aroma
indicating that the beer was hit with sunlight, causing the hops to stink; or had off flavors like a
movie theater-popcorn smell, indicating the presence of diacetyl, a natural chemical byproduct
of an imperfect fermentation process. I could go on but you get the idea. These beer may be
from independent breweries but they are not part of the craft movement by any means.
I'm sure you remember how many times we've been to brewery tasting rooms that serve their
beer out of dirty glassware, don't take the time to sweep their floors, have dirty bathrooms, and
even have standing water near their production equipment. If craft means excellence in all
things then these guys are not craft.
Please don't get me wrong. We all need to support craft brewing. I know we both always look
for the "Independent seal" on beer we buy but that shouldn't mean we also have to support
those who are not living up to the standards set by those great beers and breweries that
founded the craft movement.
The exceptional growth in the craft industry will I think reach a shaking out point where not
good craft breweries will go out of business. Since I don't want to see any brewery go under
I'm suggesting that they all reemphasise their commitment to quality.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
I don't want to say this too loudly since people might think I'm just your yes man but in this case I
tend to agree with you. In fact I'll go a step further in saying that as much as I dislike almost
everything the big boys of brewing do from their marketing tactics to their beers there are some
things small independent breweries can learn from them. Hey, don't snicker at me until I get a
chance to explain.
The macro producers really stress quality control and consistency. For the record I'm defining
quality as minimal to no defects. Remember when we visited Anheuser-Busch’s St. Louis
brewery and met trained professionals who's job it was to sample the Budweiser brewed at each
of the company’s 12 U.S. locations, making sure that the liquid tasted exactly the same?. .
That is a commitment to maintaining a level of consumer experience that is quite impressive.
Obviously the beers produced those large companies are, how can I be nice, flavorless, but that
doesn't mean the skill that goes into making millions of barrels of the same beer each year, at
multiple locations, without defects, is any less than that seen at any celebrated craft brewery.
Face it, Bud is always Bud, a simple inoffensive lager, everywhere. That' not easy to do..
I do want to emphasize that when we get a less than good craft beer it might not be the fault of
the brewery. Any beer, will go “bad” under certain conditions. In fact, the quality of beer starts
to change as soon as it leaves the brewery. A keg of beer has an average shelf life of a few to
several months if it’s kept in an optimal environment, which includes being stored cold.
Consider that up to a third of that time is spent sitting at the brewery or in a distributor’s
warehouse, the window is even smaller for the consumer to enjoy it. So, poor storage practices
or poor draught system maintenance can quickly degrade draught craft beer quality.
I'm sure there are a many craft brewers who believe that they deserve some leeway in quality
control because of their small production capabilities. In a way, I agree. Craft beer can be
inconsistent mainly because of the small batches that are made and the variety of styles a
brewery attempts. Frankly, I'll take a mediocre craft beer over a Bud every time however if the
craft beer is a total drain pour after one sip, well bing on the macro lager.
I'll end by echoing your closing point that small, local breweries have an obligation to continue in
the craft tradition of quality. It makes sense for them, their business, and we the drinkers of
Here's looking at you Gina