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Small Beer Brewers Gaining Popularity in US

A few large beer breweries have controlled much of the beer market in the United States since the 1950s. But in recent years, the number of small “craft” breweries has grown sharply. The small manufacturers have changed the way Americans drink beer.

The United States has more than 3,200 breweries. But the country was home to only 40 breweries in 1985. Those numbers come from the Brewers Association, an organization working in support of small and independent American beer manufacturers.

The association says craft breweries make up most of the new U.S. breweries. Yet the small manufacturers produce fewer than six million barrels of beer a year. A fluid barrel represents almost 120 liters.

The amount of beer sold nationwide dropped by about two percent in 2013, compared to one year earlier. Yet craft beer sales rose by more than 17 percent over the period.

Katie Marisic is with the Brewers Association. She thinks the increased sales resulted from drinkers seeking beer with a different taste.

“(It’s) really kind of similar to, if you’re looking at coffee or bread. People want authenticity, they want flavor, and they want diversity, and that’s what we’re seeing in the beer market as well. The beer drinkers are really, really demanding a more diverse and authentic beer.”

America’s largest breweries produce beers that they believe many people will drink. Most of these products have a mild flavor and little alcohol. Craft brewers make beers with stronger flavors and higher levels of alcohol.

There are at least five craft breweries in Washington D.C.

Brandon Skall help to launch one such company, DC Brau, in 2010.

“But we really wanted to, to make sure that this city had a brewing identity. It’s the capital of the country, but it didn’t have a production facility in here creating beer that could be sold across the entire city. We just saw that as a major opportunity.”

Mr. Skall does not consider Washington’s other craft breweries as competitors. He says they help in the fight against the large manufacturers.

“Let’s educate people as to why they should be drinking craft beer, how craft beer can improve the quality of their drinking life. And usually once we do that, we find that people sort of stick with the craft beer. So it’s a collective win for all of us when we’re able to pull somebody away from that ‘big beer’ mentality.”

Anheuser-Busch InBev is one of the biggest brewers in the world. It has made humorous advertisements about craft beers. The advertisements suggest that some craft beer drinkers spend more time examining their beer than drinking it.

Jeff Hancock is the brewmaster at DC Brau. He thinks the ads will have little effect on craft beer drinkers.

“And I think, you know, the big 'Buds' and 'Millers' are getting a little scared because they used to have, they’re used to having at least 85 to 90 percent of the total market share -- in previous years even more than that. But craft beer is coming up on, you know, hopefully 20 percent market share by, by 2020.”

But not everyone in the craft beer industry thinks the advertising is completely wrong. Greg Engert is the beer director at the Blue Jacket Brewery in Washington. He says some craft beer drinkers do spend more time talking about and examining beer than drinking it.

“There is an element of craft beer drinker today that is dissecting beer at the expense of enjoying it. And I think that, somewhere in the middle here there’s, there’s kind of like ‘Let’s all remember why we got involved with this in the first place -- its fun.’ You can intellectualize it -- I certainly do -- but there’s a visceral enjoyment that should go along with drinking and socializing around craft beer that I think that commercial kind of almost, almost seriously almost rightfully drew attention to.”

The Brewers Association predicts sales of craft beer will continue to grow. In 1997, craft beers made up three percent of sales. That has increased to ten percent today.

I’m Christopher Jones-Cruise.

Jeff Custer reported this story from Washington. Christopher Jones-Cruise adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


Words in This Story

brewery – n. a place where beer is made; a company that makes beer

authenticity – n. the quality of being real; not copied or false

diversity – n. the quality of having many different forms or ideas

mild – adj. not strong or harsh in taste

identity – n. the qualities that make something different from others

facility – n. something (such as a building or large piece of equipment) that is built for a purpose

stick with – idiom to stay with or remain loyal to someone or something

collective – adj. shared or done by a group of people; involving all members of a group

mentality – n. a way of thinking

humorous – adj. causing laughter

element – n. a group of people that form part of a larger group

dissect(ing) – v. to study or examine (something) closely and carefully

at the expense of – idiom in a way that harms (something or someone)

intellectualize – v. to thoughtfully examine something

visceral – adj. coming from strong emotions and not from reason

socialize – v. to talk to and do things with other people in a friendly way

Do you drink craft beer? Are there craft breweries in your country? We want to hear from you. Write your thoughts in the comments section.

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