Not so long ago, “Give me a beer” was something you heard at every bar and restaurant around the nation. But oh, how beer has changed! Craft beer has become huge: Currently, some 8,000 breweries dot the country, with locations in all 50 states. With names like “Dogfish,” “Cougar Bait,” and–my personal favorite–“A Beer” by Against the Grain brewery, the age of craft beer has arrived.
So, what is the definition of craft beer and a craft brewer? First, you must produce fewer than 6 million barrels of beer a year. Next, less than 25% of the brewery must be owned by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. Lastly, you must obtain a brewer’s notice through the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB).
Kentucky alone has 83 craft breweries that produce an economic impact of $795 million per year, which ranks 28th in the nation. Here, Derek Selznick, the executive director of the Kentucky Guild of Brewers, sheds some light on this booming business in Kentucky.
The Lane Report: Where do you see craft beer in five years?
Derek Selznick: A lot has to do with how long it is until we can open back up at full capacity. I also think a lot has to do with consumer confidence in being able to go out to their local restaurant or brewery and feel safe. That is a real concern. We have seen that people really appreciate the convenience of ordering online and being able to drive up and get something dropped off into their car. What the industry looks like depends on how long this new normal continues and what effects it has on consumer behavior. It is going to take not just a few months but probably a few years before a real sense of safety and normalcy return.
TLR: What efforts are made by craft brewers to connect with the local area?
DS: (We do) individual nights for local nonprofits in donating funds (and) a lot of our folks serve on their local neighborhood councils. I am going to steal a tagline from Old Louisville: “Good beer makes great neighbors.” We truly want to be good neighbors and sources of good in our individual community.
TLR: Do craft beer ratings and the “best beer list” really mean anything?
DS: Yes, to the point where there are a lot of really great beers on those lists. No, because it is entirely subjective. I have seen ratings of beers that I would consider top of the line but the person rating it doesn’t like the style. When it comes to that style of rating system, there is always going to be inconsistency. There are also going to be a lot of beers that are not going to be rated a lot because the brewery itself is tiny and may not distribute whatsoever. They will never have the volume to rate among those other places.
TLR: Does craft beer in cans really taste as good as craft beer in bottles?
DS: Cans are probably the superior vessel when it comes to packaging. They do not let in any light whatsoever, which can affect the flavor of the beer. That said, a lot of people really enjoy drinking from bottles. However you enjoy beer is the right way to drink it.
TLR: What particular flavor is hot right now?
DS: Right now, as always, IPA (India Pale Ale) has always been taking up 25% of the market share of all of the different beer styles. I think that trend will continue. We have also seen a real resurgence in lager beers.
TLR: What is your favorite beer right now, and why?
DS: I am an IPA and a stout guy. Those are two of my go-to’s, regardless of the season. Honestly, my favorite beer is actually when I visit a brewery, and I’m talking to the brewer. They get really excited, and they hand me something just to try. Those are always my favorite beers because of the passion and love behind the beer.