For decades, we’ve grown accustomed to what we think good beer is supposed to taste like – light, airy, middle of the road. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with this; every day people all over America head to their local gas station or grocery store and pick up six packs of their favorite beer from the industry giants that fill out TV screens on football Sundays. Macro-brews became “Macros” because they’re so accessible. Their growth over time was a direct result of consumer preference. However, in recent years, what started as a gentle churn underneath the giant brew barrels of the factory-born American lagers has since grown to a restless roar that’s threatening a complete upheaval of what we think we know about beer. The craft beer revolution is here, and is more than just filling bellies, its capturing the hearts and minds of American beer drinkers everywhere.
Initially known as Micro-brews for their small-scale production and distribution, the thousands of craft-beer makers that have cropped up in the past few years found a home with a younger generation of beer drinkers looking for a more sophisticated, unique taste. As the proliferation of craft beers increased, so did their acceptance among a broader audience. There must be some sort of sociological connection between the parent-child relationship and the craft beer explosion, but that’s a different essay altogether. The plain fact now is that, what started as “not your father’s beer” has become something that every generation of beer connoisseur can really grab hold of.
North Carolina has developed it’s own powerful foothold in the craft beer market; even Greenville’s own Trollingwood Brewery (technically classified as a Nano-brew) is giving our town it’s first highly-anticipated step into the world of craft beers. But eastern North Carolina is no stranger to the craft brew circuit; Duck Rabbit brewery in Farmville and Mother Earth Brewery in the Kinston have cemented their position as staples of “better-than-great beer” in our region. So what is it that sets these brands apart from their national competition? The most obvious answer appears to be flavor. Rather than the homegrown American Lager taste that many people have known for years, micro craft brewers are taking more adventurous leaps into a broader palette of flavors. Experimental flavors like fruit and spice infused stouts or the more hoppy pale ales give even casual drinkers and often welcomed break from the traditional, hyper-balanced lager.
Another driving factor in the craft beer revolution appears to be the sourcing of local ingredients. The size and scale of many micro brew operations help to make buying organic, locally sourced ingredients more affordable, and their drinking audiences appear to be willing to pay the premium to know that they’re drinking a responsibly sourced, hand-crafted beer that’s also delicious.
Restaurants are responding to the “we want craft beer” chant that’s punctuated by the sound of empty mugs on bar tops by keeping more craft options at the ready (on tap?), offering a beer list that is often longer than a complete wine list, or they are regularly rotating taps to keep the micro brew connoisseur coming back to sample next week’s line-up. Even the major beer distributors are creating craft beer option to compete with the mass of growing Micro-brewers. When you’ve got these guys watching their backs, you know you’re making a statement.
Regardless of the casual drinker’s opinion of the craft beer movement, all signs point to the long, happy growth of the craft beer market. Craft brewers across America are finding more homes in restaurants and supermarket shelves every day, and it’s largely because what was once a small but loyal following isn’t quite so small any more. Pat yourself on the back for a job well done, craft beer drinker; the next round’s on us.