The rise of craft beer has been a long time coming. NPR noted there are now more craft breweries in the U.S. than there have ever been since the 19th century. While mass-produced corporate beers still make up the large majority of the total beer market, and will likely continue to do so for some time, craft brewers have expanded collectively from their original independent niches into a mainstream movement sweeping across the country.
Rather than remaining relegated to certain regions, more brewers are looking to push their products nationwide while still keeping their hometown roots. New Belgium in Colorado and Sierra Nevada in California are two examples of companies that started small but are now serving customers thousands of miles away from their headquarters, according to NPR.
But growing a craft beer business starts with the actual product. Because traditional beers use a limited palette of ingredients and tastes, the production process has been honed into a well-oiled machine. Today’s consumers, however, are eager for a wider array of flavors and eclectic designs.
So what’s the secret to success? For many brewers, it comes down to the very basic principles by which beer is brewed.
A study from the U.S. Department of Agriculture found craft brewers make greater use of barley in their concoctions. Compared to traditional beermakers, craft brewers use four times as much. As a result, more flavor is added to craft beers, providing consumers with tastes they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten from standard beer competitors.
Further, a report from the Hop Growers of America noted the amount of hop crops increased 10 percent from 2013 to 2014 due to a higher demand in the ingredient for the use in craft beers. Hops has long been a staple of many craft beers and is instantly recognizable by its bitter, sometimes tangy taste. Corporate beers tend to stay away from high amounts of hops because the flavor stands out and isn’t as marketable as watered-down light beers that appeal to larger audiences. As a result, drinkers looking for the best hops beers frequently turn to their favorite craft brewers for a better selection.
Even further, in many cases, craft beer can be broken down into the exact water that is used in the process. Because water is the building block of the brewing process and is responsible for the reaction of the grains, different tastes can be extracted from the water itself. For instance, NPR indicated some brewers utilize water that is rich in limestone while others use water higher in sulfur and other minerals found in the ground.
For many brewers, the biggest challenge in the entire process is dealing with so many different vendors and contractors, all the while trying to fine-tune the art of brewing, according to MarketWatch. Craft brewers have to operate in coordination with farmers, distributors, transporters, stores, restaurants and bars to create a seamless business operation. However, this is hardly the case.
Because corporate beers own a large part of their distribution operations, it’s much easier for their products to find markets. Craft brewers typically don’t have the budgets to work in such a manner and must make do with the current state of their processes. For newer companies in particular, getting started is a tricky process that takes years of passing state and federal regulations while securing contracts with the appropriate dealers.
Then, craft brewers must be sure their products will catch on with the public. By starting small and creating a buzz around their brands, these brewers are better positioned to take advantage of the newer, younger customer base that wants beers that meet their needs.