I guess it's up to me to put things in perspective. The aughts were a great decade... for beer.
Although most of the iconic breweries that have become symbols of the American craft beer revolution started selling beer back in the nineties (or in a few cases, earlier), it was in the first decade of the 21st century that they became household names to a degree that surprised anyone who knew the history of American beer. And it was during the aughts that craft beer gained legitimacy as part of a long-term shift in America's drinking habits.
Whether you love it or hate it, from a craft beer perspective much of the decade was defined by "extreme beer." In part, that was due to the ways in which extreme beer changed the way people thought about beer, and it was also due to the fact that extreme beer makes for a good story.
Sam Calagione of Dogfish Head (poster child of the extreme beer movement) has been profiled dozens of times in the popular media. Jim Koch's impressive Samuel Adams Utopias generates widespread buzz when it's released every couple of years due to its 25 percent ABV. Bourbon barrel-aged, 150 IBU, way-beyond-imperial stouts fermented with unheard of yeasts to the strength of liqueur raced to the top of the rankings on beer review websites.
This publicity and notoriety helped drive sales for all types of craft beer. According to data provided by the Brewers Association, early in the decade craft beer sales grew at an annual rate of one to two percent. By 2006, growth had exploded to 12 percent per year. Last year growth dipped down to six percent due to the recession, but that had already crept back up to nine percent for the first half of 2009. Compare that to the fact that overall U.S. beers sales were down 1.3 percent for the first half of the year.
The story here is that mass-produced lagers are on a slow decline, and beer with actual flavor crafted by passionate brewers continues to win over more people every day.
Of particular interest to me is this: in 2000 there were 36 "regional" craft brewers in operation (defined as those which produce between 15,000 and 2 million barrels of beer per year); as of July of this year, there were 64 such breweries—almost double.
Regional craft brewery is a step beyond "microbrewery," with the latter term referring to very small, local breweries.
And I think the number of microbreweries growing into regional breweries will continue to rise over the next decade as craft beer continues its incredible pace of growth. Some of today's regional breweries will grow into national breweries. The term "extreme beer" will fall out of usage as those beers become accepted as normal and American brewers constantly challenge the popular understanding of beer itself.
It's a good time to be a beer lover.
“Hopped Up” is a weekly brew review by Danner Kline, founder of Free the Hops and co-organizer of the annual Magic City Brewfest. Send your feedback to email@example.com