The Landscape of Craft

From the now ubiquitous Samuel Adams commercials urging viewers to “Take Pride in Your Beer,” to appearances by Dogfish Head Beer founder Sam Calagione on both “The Today Show” and “The Martha Stewart Show,” craft beer has slowly made its way into American households, and is undeniably one of the fastest growing categories within the beverage industry.

According to recent data, craft breweries sold nearly 11.5 million barrels of beer in 2011, up from 10.1 million barrels in 2010, with total dollar sales of craft beer leaping to an estimated $8.7 billion, up 15 percent the previous year.

Despite significant gains in sales and consumption, mainstream education and awareness of craft beer remains hazy. And while miniscule marketing budgets play a role (or lack thereof), the biggest barrier to consumer acceptance may be the very notion of craft beer itself.

What differentiates a “craft” beer from a “regular” beer? What is a “craft” brewery? And, better yet, what the heck does “craft” even mean? Before getting too deep into terminology, let’s back up for a moment, and take a brief look at the evolution of craft beer in the U.S., as well as the laws and organizations that govern the category.