Craft beer, which has also been called “boutique” or “premium” beer, is essentially beer that has been brewed in (relatively) small batches, using traditional methods. The main ingredients will be water, hops, yeast and a grain-based sugar. The grain most commonly used is barley that has been turned into (sugary) malt. Other grains can be used, such as wheat, rye and oats.
The brewer can also add other natural flavours to the beer, including herbs, spices and fruits.
Until the end of the 19th century, virtually all beer made was craft beer. It was the industrialisation of brewing processes, and the trend toward mass production methods that slowly pushed craft beers into second place. Today, mass brewed lagers and light beers are the mainstay of Australian beer consumption.
About 98% of beer consumed in Australia is manufactured by the large brewing corporations, notably SABMiller and Lion. Between them they own nearly all of the beer brands popularly drunk in Australia. They will use “non-traditional” methods to produce very large volumes of beer. This can include the blending of brews to make a uniform product, and the dilution of strong superbrews to save brewing time and optimise the use of the brewing equipment.
Chemical flavour enhancers, preservatives and fining agents may be used. After pressure filtering to make the beer clear, it may be re-injected with carbon dioxide to add the right amount of fizz.
In contrast, a craft beer can be slightly cloudy, as filtering is not essential. A craft beer will be the strength and flavour at point of sale, as it was at the end of the brewing . Chemical flavours and other artificial additives are a definite no-no in a craft beer.
Currently, craft beer accounts for about 2% of beer consumption in Australia. In the United Kingdom, it is also about 2%. In the United States, it is closer to 7% of total sales. As a true beer-drinking nation, the amount of craft beer consumed is forecast to increase in Australia. It may eventually reach the level of popularity it enjoys in the USA.
BUT WAIT –
Don’t get me wrong – whilst this site is here to sing the praises of craft beer, I’m not saying that all beer in Australia should become craft beer. I’m not suggesting that we storm the Great Corporation Breweries, carrying placards saying things like “Re-pint and thin no more” and “Give us real ale or we’ll get bitter”. Not at all.
Australia needs and consumes 5 million litres of beer products PER DAY. Craft beer cannot, and should not aim to take the place of the Big Brewers. In a country like Australia, we need – we desperately need – Big Brewer beer to fulfil the demand. Craft beer will never expand to produce the millions of litres required daily by thirsty men and women.
Australia is a hot, dry country for the most part. There are thousands of farmers, builders, IT experts and many others, who can spend the whole day working in temperatures of 35 degree C (95 degrees F) or more, (maybe not the IT group). They need rehydration, and a drink that is cold, has an appetising sparkle and pleasant flavours. The hops and alcohol act as a relaxant, making beer the perfect way to end the working day. That’s why we need 5 million litres of the stuff daily.
The Big Brewers are essential to the beer scene. Finally, don’t forget that there are many types of craft beer. When you come across the possibly unfamiliar names in a brewpub or on a bottle, Google the name and you’ll see what it is. It will become a fascinating journey, to discover India Pale Ale, Wit, Porter, Saison, Bock and many, many more.