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Enjoy Magazine

Fun Facts About Craft Beer

07/21/2019 11:00AM ● By Jon Lewis


August 2019
By Jon Lewis

IT'S AUGUST in the North State, which means it’s hot. And when it’s hot, few things can be as refreshing as a cold beer.

Thomas Jefferson, America’s third president and author of the Declaration of Independence, was on board with the benefits of a cold brew. The Virginian reportedly professed the belief that “beer, if drunk in moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health.”

With that in mind, here are a few suds-related notions to sip on as you dodge the sun and prepare for the eighth annual Redding Beer Week:

What’s a craft beer?

According to the Brewers Association, a trade group that advocates for the craft brewing industry, a craft brewer is small (annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less) and independent (with no more than 25 percent owned by a non-craft alcoholic beverage industry producer). 

The craft brewer definition has gotten a little fuzzy – and a little heated – following the acquisition of some popular craft beer labels by industry giants. For example, Blue Moon and Shock Top market themselves as craft beers, even though their respective parent companies are brewing behemoths MillerCoors and Anheuser-Busch InBev.

In the North State, though, there’s no confusion: Chico’s Sierra Nevada remains the king. It is the third-largest craft brewer in the country and the seventh-largest overall. Its ubiquitous Pale Ale, introduced in 1980, is credited with launching the craft beer movement. Locally, Wildcard, Fall River, Woody’s, Final Draft and Cedar Crest continue to gain fans with their individual offerings.

Beer is big business

There were  7,231 breweries in operation at the end of 2018, the Brewers Association says. Some 99 percent of those were small and independent craft brewers that combined to produce 25.6 million barrels of beer. (One barrel is 30 gallons, or two full-size kegs.) Craft beer sales were up to $27.6 billion in 2018, enough to claim a 24-percent gulp of the $114.2 billion beer sales in the United States. By volume, craft beer made up 13.2 percent of the beer market.

Interestingly, overall beer sales dropped 1 percent by volume, the association says, while craft beer sales grew by 4 percent.

Beer is fun

John Hutchings, who launched Fall River Brewing in 2011 with his wife, Amanda, says curiosity about the brewing process got him started. “I enjoyed drinking it, and once I learned about it I wanted to try it. I thought it would be much harder than it was. I realized it happens in an almost magical fashion.”

Hutchings also has fun introducing newcomers to the craft beer scene. “The main things we get all the time is everybody considers an ale to be a big, powerful, strong beer,” he says, when many styles of ale can be light, crisp and sometimes even accented with fruit.

“And everybody always assumes the darker the beer, the stronger it is. We get that a lot,” Hutchings says. Porters, stouts and other darker beers get their color from the type of malted barley used in the brewing process. Even though it may look like somebody just changed the oil in their car, a stout can actually be creamy and smooth with some nutty tones.

Brandi Greene, who studied fermentation science at Oregon State University and is now the winemaker and co-owner of Burnsini Winery in Cottonwood, has had a long love affair with beer.

The traditional lambic beers from Belgium, where brewers open the brewhouse windows and let native yeast organisms take up residence in their beers, were “one of the things that blew my mind when I was learning about fermentation science,” she says. Monks made a habit of keeping a keg of the previous batch, not unlike a sourdough starter, “and they’d keep that keg of naturally fermented beer going year after year.”

On the Oregon State campus in Corvalis, students kept a keg of lambic going that dated back to the start of the fermentation science program. “I was drinking off a barrel of beer that had been in the works for 16 years,” Greene says. “That beer is pushing 40 years at this point.”

Scott Wlodarczyk, a partner with his son and brother at Woody’s Brewing Co., also is a fan of Belgian beers but he finds enjoyment in working with his chef, Chris McGovern, to find ways to pair Belgian beers (and other styles) with food.

Whether it’s East India, Germany, Mexico, France, Poland, Belgium or Hawaii, “it’s all pretty intriguing. It’s just fascinating how the food culture has evolved.”

Beer is history

Researchers have tested ancient pottery jars that indicate beer was produced some 7,000 years ago in present-day Iran. In Mesopotamia, a 6,000-year-old Sumerian tablet depicts people consuming a beer-like drink from a communal bowl and a 3,900-year-old Sumerian poem honors Ninkasi, the patron goddess of fermentation and shares a beer recipe.

What is an IPA?

IPA, an anacronym referring to India Pale Ale, is a ubiquitous style of hop-forward beer with origins dating back to the mid-18th century. A popular myth has it that English brewers added extra hops to beer so it could survive the long voyage to India without spoiling, but historians tend to dispute that story.

Europeans in India did develop a taste for pale ales from Britain and, eventually, brewers began adding extra hops for beers earmarked for India and other warmer climes and by 1835 or so it began to be known as India Pale Ale. 

IPAs were rediscovered during the craft beer renaissance of the 1980s and American brewers continue to experiment with increasingly larger hop profiles and stronger beers. •