Is the American love affair with craft beer starting to fade?
A number of indicators point in that direction. While the top craft brews are still in great demand, the competition is fierce. There are nearly 3,000 craft brewers in the United States today (including brewpubs and microbreweries). In 1978, there were 42 breweries in the entire country.
Not only is the category crowded, brewers also are resorting to more bizarre flavors to capture the attention of the public. It’s now possible to find avocado-honey ale, banana-split chocolate stout, and coconut IPA as well as beer that tastes like bacon, coffee, Key lime pie, or pizza.
This cornucopia of taste sensations runs counter to the retooled image of beer that brewers have been trying to project. Beer was supposed to be the new wine. Other beverages have been touted as such—coffee and spirits come to mind, and both of those have spawned flavors that defy the imagination (witness the PB&J vodka released in 2012 by Van Gogh). Regardless of how hard you search, though, you won’t find wine flavored to taste like bacon, Key lime pie, or avocado, although you’ll come across many wines that complement those foods to perfection.
Craft beer has failed to establish a place for itself in America’s finest restaurants for one simple reason: It’s not expensive enough. Yes, there are beers that cost $100–$1,000 per bottle, but these are rarities. In the world of suds, the equivalent of the Court of Master Sommeliers is the Cicerone Certification Program, an organization that “certifies and educates beer professionals in order to elevate the beer experience for consumers.” While there are roughly 900 Certified Cicerones and 27,000 Certified Beer Servers, most are employed in the retail or distribution segments of the trade. In a restaurant that is both upscale and popular, it’s possible to make a living as a sommelier. You can’t survive by selling beer.
Despite the popularity of craft beer in recent years, few drinkers seem to understand what it really is. According to The Brewers Association, craft brewers may produce as many as six million barrels annually. In an attempt to retain market share, large brewers have contributed to this confusion by releasing beers that look like craft brews. Earlier this year, a consumer in California filed a class-action lawsuit against MillerCoors for marketing Blue Moon as a craft beer. MillerCoors turns out 76 million barrels each year, and none of its eight brands qualify as craft brews. “Imported” beers can be just as befuddling. Foster’s Lager (touted as Australian) is made in Fort Worth, Texas; Red Stripe (Jamaican) in Latrobe, Pennsylvania; and Beck’s (German) is brewed in St. Louis.
It might be that the very idea of craft beer doesn’t fit in with the lifestyle of most Americans. David Chang, just about everyone’s favorite twenty-first century fusion chef, created quite a stir when he wrote a piece for GQ magazine last year explaining that he always drinks the worst and cheapest beer he can find. When you’re at the ballpark or you’ve just finished mowing the lawn on a hot day, nothing beats an ice-cold Miller or Bud.
Regardless of any perceived trends, craft brewing is expanding in Palm Beach County. Successful start-ups include the Tequesta Brewing Company and its Palm Beach Gardens affiliate, Twisted Trunk; Funky Buddha (a Boca brewpub that morphed into a full-blown brewery in Oakland Park); Due South in Boynton Beach; and Saltwater in Delray Beach. To sample the best of both local and national brews, plan on attending the Jupiter Craft Beer Festival, held in January at Roger Dean Stadium.