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The seat of the craft beer renaissance

 

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Liberty Ale, which San Francisco’s Anchor Brewing Company launched as a special edition in 1975, was arguably the first beer of the American craft brewing renaissance. It is still brewed today.

By: Stephen Beaumont

 

There is some debate among beer cognoscenti as to where the modern craft brewing renaissance began. Was it with the formation of the British beer consumers group, the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA)? Or was it when Fritz Maytag assumed full control of the crumbling Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco in the 1970’s? Or perhaps it was when the world’s greatest beer writer, the late Michael Jackson, reminded Belgians of their glorious but then slowly disappearing brewing heritage?


Regardless of which of these or many other events kick-started what was then, and is sometimes still today, called “microbrewing,” there was no doubt that by the turn of the 21st century artisanal brewing was in full flight the world over. From rumblings in India and China and Poland and Spain to full-fledged explosions in Italy, Japan and the United States, craft beer sales are up where mainstream beer is down, or where the beer market continues to grow, crafts are making important inroads.

 

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After a slow start, Italian craft beer has developed to the degree that restaurants such as Spiaggia in Chicago stock a wide selection of imported brands.

Many of the countries that embraced the idea with early enthusiasm have gone on to become what might best be called the New Brewing Lands, where beer cultures once dormant are being allowed to flourish and brewing creativity runs rampant. Almost without exception, major brewery beer sales are either stagnant or declining in these nations, while craft beer sales are recording impressive growth, often in double digit percentages. 


In turn, the craft breweries of these New Brewing Lands are influencing not just how the big brewers are looking at their future – implicitly turning their backs on the market in some cases, buying craft breweries in others, or starting their own craft beer-styled divisions – but also how new breweries develop in emerging markets. So that as Belgian breweries helped guide the development of the Italian craft beer scene and Belgian, British and German breweries influenced Canadian and American small breweries, now the Italians are casting their influence upon the Spanish, and Americans are helping to chart the course for Brazilian brewers.


With time, no doubt those influences will change yet again, with perhaps Chile emerging with the new hot beer style or Chinese-grown hops becoming the next big thing. But for now, at least, the tail wagging the proverbial global brewing dog is the collective efforts of the brewers of the New Brewing Lands.

 

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