share of attention, there’s also continued movement happening among the industry’s much broader and dispersed base—among the thousands of small and independent craft breweries that have since appeared in the space opened up by these bigger brewers. That movement illustrates the complicated relationship between commodity and craft and why independent ownership matters.
Consider coffee. For many years and in many American households, coffee came in a vacuum-sealed canister and one brand was more or less interchangeable with the next. Then, as Americans became more affluent and access to more and varied types of coffee increased, tastes changed and became more discriminating.
This shift happened across almost every type of food and beverage as small producers offered up alternatives to the status quo. Some recognized opportunity in this trend and found ways to replicate a more craft-like approach at scale, reaching a much wider audience and accelerating change in the process. But as what was once unique became commonplace, many consumers grew thirsty for new and novel expressions. This in turn has helped create a receptive audience for the next generation of small, independent producers, many of whom are exploring increasingly niche directions and a hyper-local approach as they seek to further differentiate themselves and their craft.
Says Bouckaert, “If you consider when craft beer started, we had gas station coffee. We had Wonder Bread. The pendulum had swung toward something that was perfected and utilitarian—but it didn’t have anything to do with taste.
“Now, thirty or forty years later, we are in a whole different era where we have wines in the United States that people dare to compare on a worldwide scale. We have beer in this country that can easily out-compete anybody in the world. Coffee is probably there. Chocolate. We’re so lucky. We could never have done something like this if Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada were not around, if this whole environment hadn’t changed,” he says. “And now I think about beer in a different environment. Who do we want to be? What is our craft?”
The Hallmarks of Craft
That spirit of constant innovation and reinvention is one of the most important hallmarks of craft and why a diverse base made up of many small and independent brewers, each exploring different facets, will always better serve and support the industry as a whole. Many craft-brewery owners are also inspired by what they appreciate in other breweries when determining their own reason for being, which For more information about the inspirational breweries listed in “Keepers of the Craft,” see these Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine® articles:
Casey Brewing & Blending » “Breakout Brewer: Casey Brewing & Blending,” February/march 2016 » “Fruit Gets Personal: Brewing with Heirloom Varietals,” June/july 2017
Scratch Brewing » “Breakout Brewer: Scratch Brewing,” August/september 2015 » “Brew with the Seasons,” Cooking with Beer Special Issue, 2016
Jester King Brewery » “Breakout Brewer: Jester King Brewery,” Fall 2014 » “Méthode Gueuze: Made In America,” February/march 2017
Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales » “Breakout Brewer: Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales,” beerandbrewing.com/break out-brewer-jolly-pumpkin-artisan-ales/
Cantillon » “Fruits of Their Labor,” June/july 2015 is another way that a diversity of small and independent breweries helps support a more robust community.
The founders of Purpose Brewing mention their appreciation of brewers such as Casey Brewing & Blending (Glenwood Springs, Colorado) and Scratch Brewing Company (Ava, Illinois), for example, and especially Jester King Brewery (Austin, Texas) as inspiration for creating beers with a sense of place and purpose. In turn, Jester King Founder Jeffrey Stuffings cites Jolly Pumpkin Artisan Ales (Dexter, Michigan), as well as Belgian brewers such as Fantôme, Cantillon, and de la Senne, as helping to inspire his approach.
Although they’ve just opened, the founders of Purpose Brewing say they have no ambition of growing the brewery much beyond its current size.
“Our intent is to stay tiny,” Wilson says. “You can’t do on a large scale what we want to do. It’s just not possible. You can’t go pick cherries off the most beautiful cherry tree in Fort Collins and make 10,000 gallons of beer, or 1,000 gallons for that matter.”
But by pursuing their ambition and following their heart, Purpose Brewing and the thousands of small and independent breweries like it play an inspiring role in defining and making relevant the “craft” in craft beer.