Good bartending requires recognition of current trends in the beverage industry, and as such, the golden era of beer is at the top of the list. The ever increasing popularity of beer over the last decade has given rise to an overwhelming and sustained interest in “suds.”
This movement has been fueled largely by the craft beer industry. According to the Brewers Association, the recognized trade association for craft beer, a craft brewery must meet the following qualifications:
- Small– Annual production of 6 million barrels or less of beer.
- Independent– A limit of 25% control or ownership by a member of the beverage industry that is not a craft brewer.
- Traditional– Majority of total beverage alcohol volume must be derived from “traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.”
The craft brew industry only accounts for 10% of the total beer sales on America. While this figure is no where near the annual sales of Anhauser-Busch, the impact of craft breweries on the beer industry cannot be ignored.
Something new and different
Over the last 20 years, the major breweries (Anhauser-Busch and MillerCoors) gravitated heavily towards light or lite beer in response to the concerns of many beer lovers to limit their alcohol content, as well as their calorie intake, when drinking. Moreover, lower alcohol content in beer often translates to less expensive beer, particularly in instances where excise taxes are set according to alcohol content. The actual alcohol by volume varies for different beers by brand and for both lite and full body beers. Reduction in calories in beers does not necessarily correlate with reduced calorie content in these beverages; nor are they intended to produce a beverage that is less intoxicating. An interactive chart that calculates the alcohol by volume of different beers can be found here. 
The fact is that beer drinkers became tired of the old standby offerings of the major breweries. They enjoy experimenting with full-flavored beers, especially India Pale Ales (IPAs), seasonal beers (winter brews, pumpkin beers), Belgians, wheat beers, and even fruit flavored ciders. Craft breweries are stepping up to the plate by providing innovative beers and beer styles. They are experimenting with different hops and grains to improve taste and flavor of beers. Also, they are marketing to liquor stores, bars, and event large venues, such as stadiums and convention halls, getting prime shelf space and exhibit stands for their products. Craft breweries are getting more involved with social events, presenting beers paired with different foods with the ability to clean the palate between courses.
Beer takes stage as the main event
Previously, beer was the second act or side dish to the feast, but not any more. With the popularity of brewery tours, pub and growler crawls and beer tasting gatherings, beer now is the main event. In addition to being a great way to socialize, brewery tours present an excellent opportunity to truly learn about the beer making process, as well as the chance to taste many of the offerings of any particular brewery. It definitely is a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon with friends and family.
A good bartender must know about beer, particularly craft beers. As so many drinkers educate themselves about craft breweries, even to the point of making their own home brew, it is important for bartenders to be able to participate in the many conversations about beer that are sure to arise at any bar or restaurant today. The era era of beer is exciting and bound to endure for a long time. So let’s all learn, drink up and enjoy.
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