Beer, Beautiful Beer; Where Mainstream and Craft Collide

Beer, Beautiful Beer; Where Mainstream and Craft Collide

A recent conversation about which “mainstream” lager I prefer brought about a new juxtaposition in my never ending quest for ultimate beer knowledge; are some craft beers now considered mainstream?  My immediate response to the lager question was ‘Yuengling”, but within a breath I remembered that Yuengling, although mainstream, is considered “craft” in that it outputs no more than 6 million barrels of beer a year. (In 2010 the rules changed to accommodate one of the Board of Director’s brewery’s expansion. Jim Koch, founder of Samuel Adams helped to facilitate an increase from 2 million barrels a year to 6 million a year.)

Yuengling was (and is) America’s first brewery, and technically due to their output and standards they are still considered craft beer, making them also the first craft brewery.  Yuengling is oftentimes found alongside the taps in bars that specialize in serving macro beers (Coors, Bud, Miller).  Does it really matter? Mainstream or not? The popularity and growth of the craft beer market have made many craft breweries “mainstream”. Sam Adams, Dogfish Head and Lagunitas all come to mind. And by the way, has anyone here yet bought that $12.00  12-ounce bottle of ‘Higher Math’ from Dogfish Head? Now I never made it into the AP math classes, but my simple math tells me that calculates to  a dollar an ounce.  I’d rather buy a four or six pack at that price and enjoy my beer for a….longer session.

So am I crossing the line in saying that craft beer is now considered mainstream? After all, craft brewries make up almost 20% of the overall beer market in the good ole’ US of A. This is a good thing, but sometimes good things turn bad. For instance, I once bought a beautifully hopped beer and shelved it for a year, the hops deteriorated and the beer skunked. Lesson learned. Another happenstance is that there are so many craft beers on the market right now that it can be down right daunting when searching for new, great beers. The market, in my eyes…and mouth, has become a bit watered down, and heavy on the malts.

Yes folks, it could well be that the integrity of craft beer is quickly becoming a tempest in a teacup. Let’s hope that the craft  “mainstream” breweries to survive this swell in the craft beer market never become the INBev’s that cornered and monopolized a prosperous, recession proof market for decades. The positive flip side is the near immediate, almost always access to  great beer, albeit at a more ( yet reasonably) costly price.

Or, as Sweetwater Brewing said of it’s ‘420’  Pale Ale, “Don’t Float the Mainstream”. Of course this slogan was marketed nearly a decade ago and so much has changed since then.

On a side note, who in the hell is buying all of those pumpkin spiced beers? You know who you are….

12 comments to “Beer, Beautiful Beer; Where Mainstream and Craft Collide”
  1. I totally agree, innovation has been stunted. Pumpkin beer to me is nasty stuff and 12.00 beers do not make sense to me

  2. True, the craft beer market has become watered down, with more and more “white noise” brews. While many breweries try to turn out a quality product, others just want to jump on the latest bandwagon. IPAs just seem to be commonplace now, with breweries’ ultimate goals being to make something and potent and hoppy as possible instead of a quality product. Pumpkin beers are the ultimate beer sins- the beer equivalents of a Pumpkin Spice Latte. All flash and very little substance. A gimmick to cash in on the ever lengthening of the already bloated holiday season. Will the bubble burst? Maybe. But should that happen, the quality players will remain in the game. I myself am guilty of the occasional $10-$30 bottle of beer. Are most of them worth it? Nope. Some definitely. I’ll gladly fork over $17 for a Firestone vintage. But i also love an occasional $2 can of Sculpin. Some breweries deserve their “mainstream” status for putting out a quality product. You just have to find them. It’s a daunting task in a growing sea of mediocraty, but they will have staying power.

  3. Beerslinger. First — kudos for your thought-provoking post!

    Second, I might suggest that we all be on our toes to recognize the difference between the “technical context” of the term “craft beer” — and the “artist context”. Company “A” might limit it’s barely-drinkable boutique beer to well below the 6mil limit — and qualify (technically) as a “craft brew”. (Since you — and many others are quick to discount the “pumpkin brews” — let’s use those as prime examples of beers that quality, technically, as craft brews — simply because they meet a volume limit). But to use the term “craf” to equate a crappy-boutique beer to such works of art as: Evil Twin’s Even More Jesus; Dogfish Head’s Palo Santo Marron; Sculpin’s Grapefruit IPA; and others — seem so typically “American” (wherein sound-bytes have replaced quality journalism).

    I would like to suggest the industry adopt some other term for a brewer’s annual volume, and reserve the term “craft beer” for those magical concauctions that panels of of the brewers’ peers and/or the general public recognize as having demonstrated superb levels of “artistry”, “crafsmanship”, and/or “quality”.

    If you agree, I’d love to see you write a follow-up to this artical, possibly entitled, “Let’s put the ART back in CRAFT (Beer)” (or something along those lines).

    Finally, I’m surprised you did not mention the “alarming, but ulitmately business-natural” trend where Mainstream Brewing Companies are buying up Craft Brewreys, but allowing (even encouragin) them to continue their small-volume operations and even “branding” (clearly as a way to re-gain the market-share they lost to “craft beers” (in either or both contexts of that term). I have to believe thsoe situations present dilemmas to the “technical” context of the term “craft beer”.

    Well there ya have it — two pence from the Peanut Gallery.

    Keep the insightful articles coming, BeerSlinger!

  4. I find that lagers and their composite ingredients and style making methods as I grow older come into focus as the greatest style or category as it is a style that stands naked for our wonderment discernment and dissection. Why? if not made well as the author indicates or stored imroperly, its warts are on its nose for all to taste, and in some cases to see. Ayinger and Hacker and Spaten though somewhat expensive esp on draft, to me stand the test of time in their technically correct German perfect artistry. And the older I get the more I come to admire, in Heineken and Grolsch’s case, their Dutch simplicity

  5. …and, if you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em. Guess that’s why AB and MillerCoors bought up the likes of Blue Moon, Magic Hat, Goose Island, Red Hook, Kona, etc., etc…

  6. Most of the year I stick with Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, or Yuengling Lager. During the Fall-Winter months, I just can’t get enough of Samual Adams Oktoberfest Ale and Winter Lager. I drink those by the gallons, especially the SA Winter Lager (YUM!!). And no, I can’t see my belt anymore. Don’t judge.

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