Great American Craft Beer: What’s Included, What’s Not…

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After a lot of pitching, discussing, researching, writing, editing, and planning, my book Great American Craft Beer, is now available for purchase. Available at on-line bookstores (clicking the link above will help direct some more of the money back to its author), the book will be making its way to bookstores around the country over the next few weeks. I actually just received my author’s copies yesterday but reviewers have had theirs for a day or two earlier and we’re already starting to see some reviews. I’ll set up another page to collect those reviews as they come in but for now, I just wanted to address one issue that has come up so far: the selections in the book.

There are around 1600 breweries operating in the United States today, a number that continues to slowly grow every year. Many of these breweries, especially the brewpubs, produce 10, 20, 30, or even more individual beers during the course of a year. No one has an exact estimate as to how many individual beers all American brewers produce but the neighborhood could be somewhere from 5,000-15,000. But considering that more than 2,200 beers from only 462 breweries will be served in the festival hall at this year’s Great American Beer Festival (more than 3,500 will be judged), I’d venture to say the total number of beers produced is probably north of 10,000.

With those numbers in mind, let’s talk about what is in the book. The heart of Great American Craft Beer includes profiles and tasting reviews of nearly 350 beers drawn from several hundred American craft brewers in dozens upon dozens of styles. I also profile 25 great American beer bars. These reviews are detailed and attempt to capture the essence of the beers and establishments, all while attempting to create a grander narrative about the importance of taste and flavor. So even if we take a conservative estimate of the total number of beers produced in America today, the entries into a book such as mine is always going to be to exceedingly small, probably less than five-percent of all beers produced.

So it is along these lines that I note early in the book that the process of selecting beers for inclusion was anything but easy. I addressed the issue because I was concerned that readers and reviewers might understandably take umbrage if their favorite beer was not selected. Beyond mere flavor, I also wanted to create some balance between the beers I profiled. Often was the case where I was faced with choosing from a dozen or more excellent style examples, knowing I had to whittle the number down to only six selections. In making my selections, I had to take care in assuring some geographic diversity (of course San Diego, Portland, or Seattle could have whole chapters dedicated to their famed IPAs), some balance between production breweries and brewpubs, and some consideration of how easy it would be to find a particular beer. Accordingly, I wrote the following in the section preceding the reviews:

Creating a list of the best beers from the litany of great American craft brewers turns out to be a pretty daunting and restless task. While the tasting part certainly has its moments, the winnowing process leaves a substantial number of excellent brewers out in the cold. In this guide, I’ve endeavored to present you with the very best beers from the top breweries in the selected styles. While not always resolute in my devotion to the doctrine of style guidelines, I have attempted to shadow their widely-accepted framework. You’ll find several levels of balance, ranging from geographic diversity to a representative equilibrium between beers produced by small and local brewpubs and regional and national craft brewers, whose beers are generally much more widely available. Along these lines, you may find that a beer from your favorite brewery has been left out. In reviewing more than a thousand beers from several hundred breweries, be sure to understand that this is not necessarily a reflection on the quality of breweries that don’t find their way into these pages. The reviews remain a snapshot of several excellent beers in a style, not the final word on the only acceptable options.

As it can be frustrating to read about an unattainable beer, I’ve tried to restrict the numbers of beers that you’d have a better chance at seeing Sasquatch than trying. I’ve also tried to create a balance between the beers produced by production breweries, whose products are primarily purchased and enjoyed off-premise, and brewpubs, whose beers are generally enjoyed in-house. As brewpub beers rarely get distributed too far from their central base of operations, beers from production breweries tend to outnumber those from brewpubs in the following pages. While a great deal of work went into crafting a balanced list of beers—with some consideration given to geographic diversity and product availability—it’s important to keep in mind that breweries frequently change their lineups and some beers may occasionally get dropped from portfolios, while others may transition from seasonal to year-round release. If your heart is set on trying a particular beer that you can’t quite seem to find, feel free to give the brewery a call for some assistance.

I hope that readers will keep these points in mind when considering my selections. Many hundreds of other beers certainly could have found a home in the book and I would have loved to include all of your favorites, but the realities of publishing don’t allow for that. Maybe we can work on a second volume next time. Cheers

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Defining Craft Beer: The (Questionable) Poll…

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Charlie Papazian, founder of the Brewers Association, has a column and poll up asking readers to weigh in on the debate continuing over the definition of craft beer and craft brewer. I’m not going to wade into that whole mess again (read all of its links for my views) except to say, with regards to the present poll questions, that I have no idea what most of the selected definitions even mean. Take for example the presently leading definition:

Any special beer with real and elevated flavor profiles more distinct than typical light American or International lagers made by ANY BREWERY large or small.”

Special beer? Real flavor? Elevated flavor? I can’t say that this particular contribution is doing much to clarify the debate and discussion over the growing use of the term craft beer. I address the topic a bit in my upcoming book, Great American Craft Beer, one which, I might add, includes a couple excellent beers from brewers the Association would not classify as craft brewers.

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