I am always asked what makes craft beer “craft”? Well, for starters, craft beer is meticulously perfected by “Gods” (or you may know them as “Brewmasters”). Their ingredients are of the highest quality, and most importantly, the beer is PURE. We all know the four ingredients of beer: Water, Malted barley, Hops, and Yeast (used in that order). Most craft beer is brewed using ONLY these four ingredients; however, depending on the type of beer, wheat, rye or fruit may also be used.
The quality of the water is paramount. Some of the best beers, even dating back to old European breweries, is determined by the water. In fact, the Pilsner-style lager, was invented due to the use of the soft-water that flows through Plzen, Czech Republic. Most breweries have a proper water-system that cleans the water using reverse-osmosis to remove any ions and impurities. However, the tap water of region still counts towards the quality of the beer, as after the purifying, some tap water may be introduced back into the beer.
The malts are chosen strategically to give the beer its colour and part of its complex flavouring. This is where the big difference between craft beers and standard macrobrewery lagers lies. Craft breweries are often very creative places, like kitchens. Brewmasters are always coming up with new takes on traditional beers, creating whole flavours never found in beer before. This is unlike your standard macrobeers; in fact, almost the complete opposite.
Standard American lagers are knows as “American Adjunct Lagers”. This means these are lagers that are brewed with adjuncts. Adjuncts are any non-malted grain, like rice or corn. This means that rather than using 100% malt, large breweries will cut the malt with corn or rice (or both). This will dull the flavour, lighten the colour, and barely affect the alcohol level. Thus, the large breweries can still brew a 5% alc./vol. beer, but at a lower cost. Corn and rice are less expensive than malt, so it’s an attractive cost-cutter for breweries. In addition, the beer will now appeal to the masses — if drank cold enough, the beer will lose almost all of its flavour, and go down like water.
The hops provide that biting bitterness and floral scent, as well as a somewhat fruity flavour that compliments the malts in the beer. One thing you will find in craft beer is that the hops are taken very seriously. A perfect example is the Canadian beer Alexander Keith’s Indian Pale Ale. Owned by Labbatt’s Brewing (who is owned by Budweiser’s AB InBev), they produce a so-called “IPA” — something that is synonymous with heavily-hopped and dynamic flavours. Unfortunately, “Keith’s” is a case of mistaken identity. Someone forgot the key ingredient: Hops.
The lack of hops in macro beer may have to do with the bitterness being unappealing to the general public (it’s an acquired taste). Also, since there is already a lack of malty flavours due to the addition of rice or corn, there is no need to balance the flavour with hops.
Then there is the yeast. One thing a lot of people don’t know is that the yeast determines whether the beer is an ale or a lager. Yes, it’s true: the myth that all darker beer are ales and lighter beer are lagers is false. Lager yeast is called “bottom-fermenting yeast” and is fermented at cooler temperatures, while ale yeast is called “top-fermenting yeast” and is fermented at warmer temperatures.
Essentially, craft beer is just more perfected, more creative, and more focused. With a smaller brewing capacity, the brewmaster can perfect his or her recipe.
For the business side of why craft beer is better, check out this video here: