Craft beer - cellar spirits on the road to success
Craft beer - cellar spirits on the road to success
At first, there were just a few quirky enthusiasts who tried out a brewing set in the cellar. Today, craft beer is the promise of handcrafted beer, where quality is always more important than marketing. Small and as much owner-managed as possible, the breweries score points with a lot of individuality against global brands. With so much success they have grown surprisingly big.
“It’s brewed for drinking not dissecting.“ Those were clear words that Budweiser used in a TV commercial. During this, a few stereotypical nerds with horn-rimmed specs and in cardigans and check shirts were sniffing at craft beer glasses. Completely in contrast to the life-affirming Budweiser drinkers, who could only wrinkle their nose at the "Pumpkin Peach Ale". 114 million people watched this commercial at the Super Bowl Final 2015.
Why had Budweiser, arguably the most iconic American beer brand, spent nine million dollars on a commercial just to tell the country that craft beer drinkers are daft? "There's only one Budweiser", the manufacturer assured its customers. Not only Czechs would have known better.
In reality, craft beer is not so much a weakness of some weirdos, as Budweiser manufacturer Anheuser Busch InBev (ABI) suggests. It is serious competition. The American market, which was comfortably divided between mass brands such as Bud & Co for decades, lost a hefty 12 per cent of its turnover to craft beer. And, perhaps even worse for Bud, especially high-earning white men between 20 and 30 enjoy these intense beers. Precisely the kind of people who should actually be drinking Budweiser. Last year, 67.8 billion dollars (64.5 billion euros) went to the small producers' coffers instead.
Beverage giant ABI itself had bought some of the most profitable craft breweries to counteract this. These included the Seattle based Elysian Brewing Company, the producer of two "Pumpkin Ales". For such beers, craft brewers usually select the most expressive types from around one hundred types of malt, 200 types of yeast and hops. Together with a skilful control of the fermentation process, aromas such as lemon, resin, grapefruit, chocolate, smoke and passion fruit are created. Additives such as elderberries or coffee are also common.
Beer as zeitgeist
A lot of body and complex aromas fascinate beer drinkers, because they may never have tasted them before in a beer. In addition, there are company stories that sometimes have their start in garages, sometimes in cellars. The names of the early brewers such as Fritz Maytag or John Bell are still mentioned with respect today. Many of them started as house brewers.
Craft beer is something for people who put enjoyment above price. Five dollars for a beer in a pub is not everyone's cup of tea. Today, the beer's workmanship meets the zeitgeist of hipsters and ecologists and has thus become a market phenomenon with a social component. The popularity reaches beyond the trendy bars. Food bloggers praise the new wines, caterers are eager to collaborate and combine beer with scallops and foie gras. Glass manufacturers offer opulently shaped glasses for tasting. Universities conduct research on new or forgotten yeast strains.
Particularly in California, beer is merging with the trend towards regionalism. More than 750 breweries operate in the Sunshine State; many of them are located in residential areas and attach great importance to the direct relationship with the neighbourhood.
However, with this continuing success, the industry is not quite as family-like any more. That is why Americans distinguish between contract brewers, who commission an external brewery to produce beer, and brewery taverns. Micro-breweries are allowed to produce up to 15,000 barrels (1.79 million litres),"regional craft beer breweries", which account for around three-quarters of production, up to 6,000,000 barrels (715 million litres). Only above that, a brewery is regarded as "large".
The majority of beers must be brewed with "traditional or innovative brewing ingredients", which by definition allows for some leeway. In general, craft breweries should compete more with high quality rather than with advertising and low prices. Ideally, small businesses produce many varieties from natural, raw materials.
Can filling, which was initially associated with the stigma of mass production, is permitted. Here much of it comes down to the question: What is craft beer? Similar to natural wine.
From the world of the gods to a high-tech drink
Historical examples are popular. Beer is the oldest beverage preparation of mankind, older than wine. As a result of the fermentation process, for the first time a storable foodstuff was available, which made consumers less dependent on the weather and their hunting success. In the Neolithic Revolution, the time when people settled down and could devote themselves to more cultural topics, some researchers ascribe an important role to beer. The Sumerians, who lived in 3000 BC, between the present-day Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, developed the first writing and brewed beer. In the greater Mesopotamia area, twenty different varieties were soon brewed. Right up to northern Europe, entire tribes turned into passionate beer drinkers.
The social relevance went well beyond the pure aliment. Sumerians, Egyptians, Romans, Germans, Celts, Christians, almost all the civilisations that developed a beer culture, projected a religious content into the drink and assigned it a meaning in the world of gods.
The Roman historian Tacitus took note of the dissipated, ritual drinking frenzy of the Germanic tribes rather a little bit cautiously. He did not recognise their innovative impetus in production. Instead of with bread, they brewed with germinated and dried cereal grains and cooked the mash. The malting and boiling the wort are still done today. Additives such as honey, fruits, herbs or psychoactive substances were also common, which meant that these beers had more in common with craft beer than many others today.
In the following centuries, hops as a decisive flavour improver, cold-resistant yeast, Louis Pasteur's knowledge of fermentation and the invention of the refrigerating machine brought decisive progress. The technological leap was so impressive that the lager beer was presented at the 1857 World Fair in Paris alongside innovations such as the lift and reinforced concrete.
In the Southeast Asian region, the brewing industry developed as well but in a different direction, on the basis of rice. Hop was unknown and malt was not appreciated for a long time. Sake is technically a beer produced by converting starch into sugar and then into alcohol.
For a long period of time, water and its hardness determined the quality of the brewing process. All beer styles were created around suitable sources. Today, water can be softened or made harder, which makes the brewing process independent of location. Boon and bane: Today, beer can be made almost anywhere and in any quality.
It was industrialisation and social development that ultimately led to very uniform products. Of the more than 4,000 breweries at the end of the 19th century, not one of them existed officially anymore shortly before the end of the prohibition in the USA. An eradication from which the country should not recover for a long time. In 1965, six breweries produced 80 per cent of American beer.
Internationally, there were increasingly large mergers of breweries with ever-increasing production capacities. Even though traditional beers remained as they did in Belgium and the Czech Republic, many small breweries disappeared. The fusion process continued into the 21st century.
It was not until 2015 that 4265 breweries were counted again on American soil. The majority of Americans need to go no further than 10 miles (16 kilometres) to the nearest craft brewery. In 2013, all of them together surpassed Budweiser with sales of almost 16.1 million barrels (two billion litres). By 2015, sales increased again from 15 to almost 25 billion barrels (2.5 to almost 4.1 billion litres).
For a beer with Michael Jackson
Today, the craft beer movement is spread all over the world with 10,000 breweries. Particularly from Great Britain, where beer lovers joined together in the 1970s to form Campaign For Real Ale, important impulses came from smaller, owner-managed "nano breweries" and "farmhouse breweries", which produce part of their brewing ingredients themselves. British critic Michael Jackson became the world's most influential critic with his book "World Guide to Beer".
With between 1540 and 1880 breweries according to various sources, Great Britain has the highest density of breweries in Europe. On the other hand, the country suffers from ever increasing alcohol taxes. At present, taxes are 14 times higher than in Germany. Even centuries-old gastronomies fall victim to pub deaths. Brew pubs, on the other hand, are thriving. A medium-sized town like Bristol has ten of them. Many craft beer producers prefer to market at festivals rather than in supermarkets.
The influence of these good beers, however, is greater than the market share of two per cent - as almost everywhere outside the USA.
The British stylistic influence in particular is internationally significant. The many very different English beer styles from mild ale to strong dark stout were revived and reinterpreted. India Pale Ale (IPA), originally supposedly transportable for British sailors on the passage to India, is a kind of blueprint for modern craft beer with high alcohol content and a good portion of hops. Produced according to the old brewing method with top-fermented yeast and light malt, it provides an optimal playground for taste experiments and has become firmly established in the market.
Barrel-stored beers are another type of beer with the potential for success. This is where Brettanomyces yeasts come into play, which are used for their flavour by modern brewers.
Triumphant advance through the wine-growing countries
Contrary to expectations, the classic wine-producing countries France and Italy have a lively craft beer scene. They benefit from the growing popularity of beer amongst younger people. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of micro-breweries in France, Italy and Switzerland doubled. Countries such as Portugal (from 0 to 60), Sweden (from 34 to 214) and Spain (from 46 to 409) recorded breath-taking growth rates.
"Beer is back," Pavlos Photiades, President of the European Brewer's Union rejoiced recently. With around 7,500 active breweries in 2015, beer is currently the fastest growing segment in terms of value in the agricultural sector.
In Belgium, too, the unique spontaneously fermented lambic beers, the historical monastery and Trappist beers were pushed back by major brands after World War II. However, the 1980s also saw an upswing here. The unique beer culture of Belgium is part of the immaterial cultural heritage of mankind.
In Germany, the scene is comparatively small. There are more than a thousand breweries, many of which have always brewed individual beers. According to the American definition, 95 per cent of breweries are "small" and pay a lower beer tax.
The branch structure is still dominated by the purity law, with which the Duke of Bavaria limited the brewing ingredients to barley, hops and water in 1516. The purpose was to limit the production of wheat beer, including profits, to the stately farms and to cap prices for barley beer. Consumers love this law to this day, although it does allow for some additions and tricks. Biochemical changes are not allowed though, nor are activated charcoal, gelatine, protein and isinglass, which are legal in winemaking. However, the law does not say anything about the type of cultivation - organic or with a lot of agrochemicals. The original approach of capping beer prices at one or two pennies is history too.
Ale instead of Alt beer
Craft beer brewers with ambitions for additives have a hard time in Germany and have to help themselves with terms like "Ale" or "Stout". Still, the scene is humming. The large brewery companies reacted quickly to the American market, producing their own craft beer and buying breweries.
Of the 395 million hectolitres of beer - and the trend is rising - in the EU, Germany has the largest beer output and consumption in Europe with 96 million hectolitres in 2015 - the trend is declining. It is noticeable that there is a death of breweries on a large scale, especially in Bavaria, where most of the small traditional breweries exist.
Even with falling consumption, Germans still spend more money per bottle. In view of low taxes and comparatively good average quality, many a craft beer brewer in Germany comes up against limits with their pricing. Many Germans are simply not willing to pay the hefty surcharges. The market share is estimated at 0.3 per cent.
The old-established brands are far from dead. In 2016, the Denver Broncos won the Super Bowl 2016. In the field interview after the match, their legendary quarterback Peyton Manning promised before the entire nation to "drink a lot of Budweiser tonight“. The Broncos did not win over any real craft beer fans that night.
Sources: Brewer’s Association Beer Marketer’s Insights Brewers of Europe Verband Private Brauereien