For forever and a day beer was yellow, it was fizzy, it got you buzzed and it was called beer. You could pick a label–any label!—and get: the same beer. There were pockets of otherness here and there but “beer” mostly meant yellow-fizzy. It wasn’t till the US West coast came along and blew the roof right off the thing that craft beer–the Anti-Yellow-Fizzy–really went big. American-made craft beer now represents 24% of U.S. beer production with over 7,000 craft breweries brewing.
Craft beer spans corner brewpubs to biggish regional brewers like Sierra Nevada, the so-called Macro Micros. Even the biggest are dwarfed by global brands like Corona and Bud. Yet Goliath’s been put on notice and David’s on a tear: in the last decade the number of brewing establishments expanded by a factor of six, and the number of brewery workers grew by 120 percent.
What drove this disruption? Hops, a sticky, vining flower in the same taxonomic family as pot. Hops and pot share some compounds called terpenes and they share adjectives like dank. In beer production hops provide compensatory bitterness to the otherwise cloying sweetness of barley malt. It’s the hopping (and over-hopping) of new-styled beers that undergirds the craft beer revolution. Many date the birth of craft beer to 1975 when Fritz Maytag at Anchor Brewing put Oregon-bred Cascade hops into his Liberty Ale. Cascade Hops provided essential bittering but with an aromatic wallop of grapefruit and flowers. Wow! The West coast aromatic-hops-race was on. If some hops are good, way too much must be better so it was a hop, skip and a jump to punishingly bitter IPA’s at the edge of drinkability. Stone boasted a beer called Ruination and Green Flash cut to the chase with Palate Wrecker. We’ve backed off since then but those rowdy and radical west coast ipa’s provided the path away from tiresomely predictable yellow-fizzy.
Shout-out to Taos Mesa Brewing for brewing great modern ales and the Ale House for showcasing dozens of breweries. Common Fire’s all-craft all-draft beer program insists on using a traditional imperial-pint pub glass because…it looks better! If you want to get rooted in wine fundamentals, join me at Common Fire during September for our four-part wine course So This is Wine. For tickets and information click on the events tab.