How far have we come with craft beer?

Posted on May 19 , 2016 in Cheers

badge ABCWThis year’s American Craft Beer Week is great time to take the time to reflect on how different the landscape of what American beer has become. Somewhere in the past few years, the large independent, regional and local brewers have become THE folks to rally behind. They now represent the American Dream and the spirit of fierce independence. The industry seems to be liked by all, held in esteem, and respected as a sustainable business model. We, as craft beer drinkers, are not seen as drunkards, but connoisseurs! The brewers’ entrepreneurial journeys have infected our hearts, minds and tongues. The products have flavor, uniqueness and depth. The availability of well made beers and styles are almost endless.


So, how far have we really come with craft beer?

Ten years ago, the number of breweries (small AND production giants) actually licensed and operating here in our region was well below 10. I can only name five without doing a google search (which didn’t itself exist 10 years ago as we know it now.) I would only consider three of them as craft at the time: Church Brew Works, East End Brewing Company, and Penn Brewery. We struggled to find enough microbrew-ed beer to fill our coolers. We struggled with the definition of microbrew, and who we could do business with in both quality and quantity! We also struggled to show the public what it was all about. We shamefully carried alco-pops, and even 12 packs of macros!

Yesterday, I was reminded that 18 years ago, I met someone as passionate about the industry as I am! Bob Batz, Jr was on the beer beat for the Post Gazette before a ‘beer beat’ was a thing! He and I met at Penn Brewery’s Pennsylvania Microbrewer’s Fest, back when they were essentially the only fest! That particular one, envisioned and ran by the determined Tom Pastorius, featured the sorts of breweries that we now refer to as craft breweries. Companies like Stoudts, Pretzel City, Lancaster Brewing, and other independent Pennsylvania breweries were there, and it was all so exciting. Bob sent me a copy of the original article, Beer Aficionados Do their Research, which he wrote back then when we met. Here is an excerpt:

What do you call three hours of standing outside on a fine afternoon, jamming to a steel drum band and sipping unlimited samples of 80 beers?

“Research,” said Chris Dilla as she asked for one more.

See, she’s the daytime bar manager who picks the microbrewed beers sold at Amel’s Restaurant in Baldwin Township. So at yesterday’s PA Microbrewers Fest— held for the fourth year at Penn Brewery on the North Side — she really was doing research. She even took notes.
“Because if you get a buzz on, you forget what you’re here for,” she said with a loopy grin.

People shared their glasses as freely as their opinions about the brews. Dilla said she loved the Belgian Wit from Reading’s Pretzel City Brewing Co. “It’s not going to make anyone make a face.”

The festival did make a lot of people grin, including many beer geeks, who come every year. Friendship’s Michael Young said he came because the actual brewers do. “You’re talking to the guys who make the beer and the people who sell it, which makes it nice. . . . This is a real good time.”

So again, how far have we come? Here we are in May of 2016, and most of us can buy craft beer without traveling more than a few miles from our front doors. Most all of us would be right at home at that festival from 18 years ago! Then we were the geeks, the fringe. Today, we are mainstream! We can note amazing changes and additions, with well over 50 breweries in Western Pennsylvania alone. Folks have lobbied for more friendly distribution laws and licensing, and succeeded. We have mobile canning lines, beer bars in grocery stores, a brew fest nearly every weekend, collectable, age-able beer, weird words like turbidity, multi brewery collaborations, one-offs, guest label art, growlers, crowlers, podcasters, bloggers, apps for tracking the beers we drink, and even dog collars with bottle openers built right into them!

Today is a day that we are all supposed to raise a pint filled with a local, fresh craft beer and toast to the success of the craft beer industry. I do suggest you also ponder how far have we come. Join us tonight May 19, 2016, at Bocktown at 8pm EST! Your first pint is just $2.16 in honor of the ACBW toast. (You couldn’t even get a pint of beer for that price 18 years ago!) Don’t forget to check into beer this evening with your Untappd app today for the badge pictured above! Get out there and support local, and give a hard earned ‘Cheers’ to the folks who have made this all possible.

Happy American Craft Beer Week
— Chris Dilla