The home and craft beer market
Not long ago, drinking beer was a fairly simple endeavor.
Pick up a six-pack at the grocery store, crack open a cold one, kick back and enjoy. Those who wanted much more than that were pretty much out of luck.
But that was before the recent craze for homebrewing and brewpubs, a trend that has spawned a surge in high-quality beers, or craft beers.
Many enjoy the taste and quality of homemade and craft beers over the mass-produced American beers. Most craft and homebrews contain a higher-quality malted barley, as opposed to cheaper corn and rice grains used by the name brands.
The mass-market beermakers produce a much larger volume than the microbreweries, who make no more than 15,000 barrels a year. A barrel is equal to 14 cases of beer.
Craft beers now only occupy about 2 percent of the beer market, but America's consumption of craft beers is growing by 50 percent each year.
A side effect of this burgeoning growth in craft beer has been the growth of brew pubs -- institutions that not only serve popular varieties of microbrews but also serve beverages they brew themselves. Brewpubs make and sell most of their beer within the pub -- and also sell food.
In 1996, 196 brewpubs opened in the United States, bringing the total up to 502. By early 1997 the total jumped to 657. "The number of new brewpubs opening, on average, is about 7 per week, and growing," says the American Homebrewers Association.
How much does it cost?
Price is also an incentive to make a high-quality homebrew. An ale that rivals Bass can be made for about $10 per case, according to Michael Norman owner of Brew-Your-Own-Beverages, a homebrew supply store in Atlanta. The basic start-up equipment, including ingredients to make two cases of beer, is about $75.
It takes only a few hours in the kitchen to make the beer, but there is a about a three-week wait before the beverage is ready to drink.
More advanced homebrewers may include additional flavors such as fruits, vegetables, spices, grains and syrups.
The present boom in beer selection stems in large part from the growth of homebrewing. It's estimated there are now about 1.5 million do-it-yourself brewers, with thousands more joining their ranks each year. The result is a proliferation of styles and tastes of beer.
History of beer
The craft of making beer goes back a long time -- nobody knows how long. But the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians knew the art of brewing.
It is believed that beer was discovered by ancient civilizations when grain was accidentally left outside and colonized by wild yeast in the air. "Well, the next thing they do is drink it, and the magic really starts happening," speculates beer guru Charlie Papazian. Papazian notes that fermented grain is more nutritious than the nonalcoholic variety.
Homebrewing in America originated with our founding fathers. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were avid brewers. They encouraged beermaking not only because they liked it, but also because they viewed beer as a healthful beverage, and less intoxicating than some other drinks.
Said Jefferson, "Beer, if drank with moderation, softens the temper, cheers the spirit and promotes health."
Up until about 20 years ago, homebrewing was illegal, with laws against it one of the last vestiges of Prohibition. It wasn't until 1979 that the federal government -- and subsequently most states -- made homebrewing legal.
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