Why are American beers so weak

New trend, tried and tested beers: Craft

The English term craft beer spilled over from the USA via England and Scandinavia to Germany only a few years ago and is now also used colloquially in this country for aromatic beers and special beer specialties. At first glance you can't see a connection between an American trend name and the German brewing tradition - but on the contrary. "Craft" means handicraft. According to the direct translation, “craft beer” has existed in Germany for over 1,000 years. With around 6,000 different beer brands from over 1,500 breweries, Germany, unlike the USA, has always been characterized by an enormous variety of beers.

In the whole discussion about the new world of beer with excitingly interpreted, mostly classic beer styles, it is sometimes forgotten that German master brewers have always dedicated themselves to the art of brewing and have learned their craft from scratch. Actually, it was actually the other way around: For American beer enthusiasts, disappointed by the uniform range of beer in supermarkets in the 1970s and 1980s, German master brewers have always been the role models, and German beer the epitome of enjoyment and quality. Even back then, German beers were traded as specialties in the USA and some master brewers were welcomed with open arms by the fan base in America. The new generation of brewers came to Germany to learn how to brew beer and looked over the shoulders of the master brewers.

Back in the USA, they founded their small breweries, which have since grown into breweries that could literally put some of the medium-sized breweries here in their pockets in terms of size. Tradition and craft beer are therefore not at all a contradiction in terms. German family breweries that are several hundred years old also brew craft beers - predominantly in accordance with the purity law. This proves once again how many possibilities there are to conjure up new, exciting beers from four natural ingredients even after more than 500 years.

Due to our tradition in the art of craft brewing, craft beer is interpreted and defined differently in Germany than in the USA: It stands for mostly hops or malt-accentuated, flavor-intensive, individual beers that are characterized by the joy of experimentation and regionality. But what you shouldn't forget despite all the crafty enthusiasm: Brewing a good light or a good Pils usually requires a lot more specialist knowledge and brewing art than producing massive, bitter beers with large quantities of hops.

Where does the craft trend come from and where is it taking us?

At the beginning of the 20th century there were around 1,700 breweries in the USA, but their number fell drastically in a relatively short time due to various circumstances such as wars, raw material shortages and prohibition. As part of Prohibition in 1919, the sale, manufacture and transport of alcohol in the USA were banned by law. As a result, breweries died out, from which America has not fully recovered to this day. Prohibition unintentionally prepared the ground for the trend towards small, mostly illegally run, craft-oriented breweries and thus laid the first foundation stone for “craft breweries”. In the 1970s, the beer scene changed on the US market: Through massive advertising campaigns by large corporations, small breweries were successively displaced in favor of consumers and thus from the market. The large breweries mainly produced light, weakly hopped lager beers, which dominated the beer market. At the end of the 1970s, the number of breweries in America shrank to 44, and six large brewing companies dominated the entire American market.

In 1978 US President Jimmy Carter, the brother of a brewer, signed a law that allowed "homebrewing" for the first time in America. In the following 30 years a colorful brewing scene developed from this, but it was still a long way from the diversity of German breweries and beers.
Why "homebrewing"? In order to get more diverse beers as an alternative to the light “lager”, consumers in the USA were basically forced to brew their own beer. The home brewers encouraged more and more brewers to set up their own small breweries. Their aim was to bring consumers closer to the variety of flavors and traditions of beer and to whet their appetite for more.

Some industry experts describe 1976 as the renaissance of American “craft beer”. This year the New Albion Brewery opened in Sonoma, which is regarded as a model for many craft breweries. In the 80s, the microbreweries and beer pubs tried to establish themselves and gradually gain a solid group of fans and regular guests. They were not noticed by the experts from the industry and moreover had to struggle with the economic crisis. They initially supplied regional bars and thus brought the brewing tradition and the variety of tastes closer to the population.

For over thirty years, more and more small and local breweries have been developing in the USA, which are stirring up the beer market with their “craftbeer”. The number has grown from eight breweries in 1980 to 537 in 1994 and over 3,400 in 2014. While the beer market is shrinking in general, the “craftbeer” market is advancing briskly. In 2014, the market share of “craft beer” in the USA was 11 percent, and the trend is rising. Some of the so-called small breweries or “microbreweries” could pocket German, medium-sized breweries. The Americans' own definition is wavering: Originally, only breweries with an output less than two million barrels (1 barrel is approx. 120 liters) per year were considered micro-breweries. In 2010 the American Brewers Association increased this figure to six million barrels, which meant that the term “craft” lost its meaning. The upper limit for “craft” in the USA is currently 6 million US barrels of beer (the equivalent of 7.15 million hectoliters). This means that even the largest German brewery groups still fall under this “craft” definition.

Across Northern Europe into the minds of German brewers

There was a similar starting situation in Denmark, where there were only 19 breweries in 2000 and 120 were counted nine years later. This is why the country in Scandinavia is regarded by industry experts as the pioneer in matters of “craft beer” from Europe and many German brewers made a pilgrimage to the USA and to the beer festival in Copenhagen. In 2002, 793 beers were registered with the “Danske Retursystem”; The Copenhagen-based Mikkeller brewery is considered to be a pioneer of the “craft beer” movement in Europe, which has made a name for itself with its barrique storage, mango and passion fruit as well as spices in the brew and champagne yeast. In Europe, the “craft beer” movement is now mainly established in Scandinavia, the Benelux countries and Italy. It is currently growing strongly in South Tyrol and Eastern Europe.