Crafting Up Brews

August 27, 2010

Americans’ thirst for beer is growing up.

Americans’ thirst for beer is growing up. Small-scale craft brewing has come of age, and the personal touch these brewmasters give their brews brings an exciting experience to the table.

So, what makes a beer a craft beer? Craft-brewed beers are distinguished from standard industrial beers by their flavor and brewing styles. Brewed according to traditional German or English recipes using high-quality ingredients, craft-brewed beers have a more creative style with more spices and full flavors. Craft brewers have the ability to constantly taste and assess their beers, tweaking their recipes or creating new ones with an agility that mass-produced domestic beer producers cannot master.

The surge in craft beers and microbreweries has also spawned a variety of new flavor profiles and styles, from fruity lambics and hard ciders to gluten-free and organic options.

A common type of beer that is frequently microbrewed is called an IPA, or an India Pale Ale. India Pale Ale is a type of pale ale that generally has a hoppier flavor than the standard pale ale. Because of the extra hops, an IPA tends to have a more bitter taste than typical pale ale. IPAs are generally medium- to full-bodied with a golden to copper color. This type of brew is said to have been named for its origin -- a method to preserve beer from the journey from Great Britian to India in the 1700s when there was no refrigeration or pasteurization. High amounts of hops lead to greater fermentation, which increases the alcohol content of a beer.

Here are a few more attributes for today’s popular craft brews:

Red or Amber Ale is usually a brownish or amber color with a hint of red. Red ales are normally brewed using a small amount of roasted barley that adds to the red hue. Red ales usually focus on the malt flavors, but some brewers in the United States like to balance the malt flavor with extra hops. This style tends to be pretty balanced between malt characters and light fruit.

Stouts and Porters are generally heavy-bodied and malty because they are made using roasted malts and barley. There are also other ingredients that are used like oatmeal, coffee, chocolate and milk. New brews coming of age match the dark brew in appearance and profile, but with a light lager yeast strain wind up with an atypical smooth and moderate body.

Wheat/Rye Beers are brewed with a significant amount of wheat fermented at warm temperatures. Wheat or Hefeweizen is generally light to dark golden in color. Flavor can vary widely. Rye beer refers to any beer in which rye (generally malted) is substituted for some portion of the barley malt. Often these brews are presented as IPAs due to the hop presence.

Lambic-Fruit Beers trace their origin to Belgium with a unique spontaneous fermentation process using wild yeast, but now American breweries are taking hold of the practice and creating some really interesting beers. These brews are designed with whole fruits being added after the spontaneous fermentation process has started. Once added, the beer is subjected to additional maturation before bottling. In some ways, lambics are more like wine than beer, dependent on factors beyond the brewer’s control. The result is a complex range of beers that can be dry, full-bodied or fruity.

The United States now boasts 1,625 breweries - an increase of 100 additional breweries since July 2009, and the highest number in 100 years. Craft-brewed beers are also distinguished from standard industrial beers by their ties to local geographic markets. It’s said that most Americans have a craft brewer producing within 10 miles of their home. So the best way to learn about craft beers is to check out what’s “hoppening” in your market!