There’s a strange trend in the world of beer.
Sales of the popular, commercial beers are declining—domestic brews dipped 1.4% in 2010, with Budweiser the hardest hit (a loss of 7.3%). During the same period, craft beer sales increased 12%, followed by a 15% gain in 2011.
The Brewer’s Association defines a craft beer as “small, independent and traditional,” with an annual production of less than 6 million barrels. The universe of craft beer is divided into distinct categories. Micro-breweries are the smallest, making less than 15,000 barrels each year and selling at least 75% off-site. Brewpubs are part restaurant and part brewery, selling 25% or more of its beer on the premises. Consumers are most likely to be familiar with regional craft breweries that focus primarily on malt beers, and “use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.”
Who’s buying craft beer? Supposedly, the people who used to spend more than $50 on a bottle of wine. Here’s my theory: After the Great Recession, displays of profligate spending became unfashionable. An expensive wine is easily identified by its accessories—crystal decanters and stemware, $250 corkscrews, aerators—whereas an expensive bottle of beer in the fridge just looks like a bottle of beer.
As an introduction to the universe of craft beer, here’s a batch of recommendations in different categories:
Narragansett Lager ($1.10, 12 oz.): An alternative to the bland, mass-produced lagers that clog the retail shelf.
White Rascal ($2, 12 oz.): An American take on a Belgian wheat beer, spiced with coriander and Curaçao orange peel.
Dogfish 60 Minute India Pale Ale $3, 12 oz.): What Dog Fish calls “an off-centered ale for off-centered people,” this perfect example of an East Coast IPA is filled with floral notes and a honeyed texture.
Rogue Spirits American Amber Ale ($6, 22 oz.): This rich ale combines overtones of citrus and coffee with a creamy texture and pleasant bitterness.