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Craft Beer: What Is It, Anyway?

03/10/2014 09:17 am ET | Updated Mar 10, 2014
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Whether you're a beer lover or not, you're probably aware of the sweeping craft beer movement that has taken our country by storm. Craft beer has been skyrocketing in popularity over the past few years, and production growth for craft beer is far outpacing overall beer production. "Craft beer production was up 9.6 percent in 2013, while overall beer production fell 1.4 percent," CNBC reports. American craft breweries are opening at an astonishing rate of 1.2 a day, says Bart Watson, Ph.D., staff economist of craft beer industry group Brewers Association.

Big beer companies are taking note of craft beer's tremendous growth, and some are trying to capitalize on the movement by buying up the smaller breweries. Anheuser-Busch InBev bought Chicago's Goose Island in 2011, and in February of this year announced it would buy New York's Blue Point Brewing Company.

With craft breweries opening up left and right and big beer companies snatching some of them up, it's not always clear if a brew is really a craft beer or disguised as such. Think Blue Moon is a craft beer? It kind of looks like one, but it's actually made by MillerCoors. How about ShockTop? It belongs to Anheuser-Busch InBev.

So what exactly is craft beer?

You could ask your favorite beer-drinking hipster, but to save you an egregiously long and painstaking response, we're answering the question for you. According to the Colorado-based Brewers Association, craft beer must be small, independent and traditional.

  • "Small" means the brewery distributes no more than six million barrels of beer a year.
  • "Independent" means that less than 25 percent of the brewery is owned by a non-craft beer brewery (like Anheuser-Busch InBev).
  • "Traditional" means that the majority of the brewery's output consists of "beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation." (Sorry, Smirnoff Ice.)

It's not always easy to tell the difference by looking at a bottle, but fear not: there's an app for that. Craft beer lovers Barrett Garese and Rudy Jahchan invented Craft Check, an app that tells you if your bottle is craft or not by scanning the barcode. Consumers are increasingly demanding transparency in their food, so it stands to reason that they want transparency in their beer. If the craft beer industry continues to grow at its current pace, this app could really come in handy.

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