Pulling Back the Curtain on Craft Beer

Of all the circumstances you did not see coming – the huge responsibilities of being an adult; Ray Nagin’s re-election; the success of Devo; that cop just the other side of the school zone; the next generation’s love of partially shaved head hair, body piercings and tattoos – maybe you should add to the list the incredible success of craft beer.

Yes, it’s really small potatoes compared to that nose jewelry on the nice young lady about to serve you your dinner in a fine restaurant, but craft beers really did sneak up on us and suddenly become “The Bomb.”

By way of loose definition, craft beers are made in very small batches, usually by very small producers, which can include just about anyone other than Anheuser-Busch or Saab-Miller. While those involved in the craft beer movement may argue that point, I have enjoyed some excellent “craft” beer from sizeable producers who are capable of turning out something interesting, even if only for a little while.

All of our local and regional beer producers release beers made in small batches with no intention of having them around for any long period of time. The beers are conceived, made, packaged, sold and gone forever. That may be a broader definition of craft than those in the industry would apply, but, hey, let’s be generous and inclusive.

The rise of craft beers goes completely against the grain of an industry, which for years was devoted to no more than five products per factory/brewery and those were available everywhere. One of the core problems and challenges with craft beer is that it is small-batch with limited distribution. For some time these beers’ exclusive outlet were the taps at only a few pubs, but with the advent of less expensive canning techniques, many craft beers can now be seen in grocery stores and gas stations in metal enclosures.

Brewmasters, alongside mixologists and food-truck chefs, have become mad scientists of flavor and texture combinations. Honestly, these folks sit up at 2 a.m., go into a transcendental state and “see” their next food or liquid combination. Damn the market research. To hell with small-batch tests. Let’s just make this kale and satsuma brew and knock someone’s socks off. Oh, well, we won’t make too much, just in case….

You can have that attitude when you are small and not burdened with large investments in plant, people, and product. Then again, that’s what the whole craft thing is all about – staying lean and doing what you want. But all those ideas can’t come only from between your ears. And how do you make choices from all the possibilities?


Seems this budding industry has established an open architecture sort of approach to brewing beer. That logically happened because at their size, each entity is unlikely to bump into the others. Which makes the craft brewing industry something like a very exciting, fast moving and quite large informal cooperative.

Recipe sharing is the deal here. Do you have something that worked well for you, or you can’t get to, or that failed? Whatever. Tell your buddies. This attitude has gone all the way to the highest elected office in the land.

Seems the White House, oh yes, that place, has a gang that brews beer for all of “those” powerful people. The President enjoys a Honey Ale and Honey Porter. Word got out and the CEO of America was only too happy to share the recipe. No need for NSA intervention or white papers.

Austin’s Jester King’s brewmaster, Garrett Crowell, shares recipes on-line for his Black Metal Imperial Stout, Commercial Suicide Dark Mild and Wytchmaker Rye IPA, among others. Stone Brewing Co., in Escondido, California, makes available recipes for brews that they are no longer making, like their original Pale Ale, Vertical Epic and Levitation.

Deschutes Brewery in Portland, Oregon offers 18 recipes, and Bell’s Brewery, Kalamazoo, Michigan, does not post its own recipes. They instead post recipes on-line developed by employees, which creates quite a work environment, not to mention taking the pressure off the research and development budget.

What all this adds up to is that craft beer is not just here to stay, it’s thriving. And Louisiana has not been left out of the fray. We were late to the party but now we have 15 breweries in the state, and expanding. The ability to purchase a minimal amount of equipment when coupled with a passion for experimentation, and giving up a few evenings to the project, means we are well on our way to taking a respectable seat at the bar.

The beverages are not easy to find, but such places as The Avenue Pub, Cooter Brown’s, The Chimes in Covington and Cochon Butcher have devoted space and energy to featuring craft brews with an emphasis on local offerings.

Back to the original question, “who the hell saw this whole movement coming?” There are some very big beer companies in St. Louis and Milwaukee that cannot answer “I did” to that question.   






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