Written by Matt Waters
Andrew Konoff was a different person before trying craft beer. “I was a straight edge,” says Konoff, “I had my first craft beer and it just changed my mind completely about what beer could be. Ever since, I’ve been trying to get as involved as I can… started brewing a couple of years ago.”
Photo courtesy of Jeff Egnaczyk.
Konoff was one of many craft beer devotees who attended the Brooklyn Beer Festival last Saturday, Jun 16th. The red, white, and blue plastic flags attached to guardrails in the lot preceding the festival grounds were appropriately colored according to the Nova Scotia native, who thinks craft beer is one field at which Americans are excelling.
“See, I’m Canadian,” Konoff says. “Being able to come down and see 70 different brewers or whatever it is here, see them all together, and they all have these amazing brews, it’s really inspiring and I kind of wish it was more like that up north too.” He continues, “Being able to walk around and talk to people today, they’re all super dedicated, (and) not just to making money. They actually love craft beer, and any industry that’s built around love is bound to have some good stuff.”
Love is a strong word. But it seems perfectly appropriate while describing America’s burgeoning craft beer industry. From the brewers and distributors to the tasters, the entire enterprise seems driven by a passionate consciousness.
Journalist Joshua Bernstein also attended the Brooklyn Beer Festival. His book, called Brewed Awakening, attempts to capture the craft scene in vivid detail. Positioned adjacent to the seminar tent, Bernstein offered signed copies of the book. He shared his favorite anecdote from Brewed Awakening with BreakThru Radio.
“There was this couple in Vermont named John and Jen,” Bernstein says. “One day, Jen started getting really sick, like crippling stomach pains. (She) was just bent over. The couple feared the worst, they thought it was cancer… they went to the doctor and it turned out she had gluten intolerance.” As Bernstein explains in the book, John directed his attention toward making a type of beer that his wife could still enjoy. “So he started making all these flavorable gluten-free beers and they became a super big hit. So that’s a story about love and what you do for the people you care about.” It’s also a story about the most important tenants driving the craft movement’s sustainability: commitment, experimentation, and a personal human touch.
According to Ted Rapp, a bartender at Union Square’s Heartland Brewery, the spark of such passion, as found in the pages of Bernstein’s book and Konoff’s personal narrative, may be based in a simple human desire for variety. “There will always be a market for craft breweries,” Rapp says. “There’s been a growing craft beer culture since the ’90s. People just like to try unique beers that aren’t mass-produced, and have community flavor that everyone else in the world hasn’t tried.”
The developing demand for unique craft brews has continued to snowball in the past year, according to the Brewer’s Association, who reported 250 craft breweries opening up in the past year, a 13 percent growth in volume, and 15 percent growth in revenue. All the findings on their fact sheet denote a steadily advancing industry.
Speaking particularly of New York, the roots of craft brewing runs deep. The continued development and advancement of the enterprise speaks well of our country’s legal statutes involving home brewing. The New York Historical Society is currently featuring an exhibit on the city’s history of beer brewing. On the topic of craft, the Society’s website states:
“In the past three decades, New York City has become an important center of craft and home beer brewing. While this phenomenon began only after President Jimmy Carter signed into law an act that legalized home-brewing, the growth of New York’s present beer industry also marks the resurgence of a long-standing tradition known to few outside the world of beer aficionados. ”
All this leaves a pressing question. Considering where the industry resides at the moment, what direction might it take in the future? Mark Daniels, a brewer at the Chelsea Brewing Company, attributes his passion for hops as a catalyst for a significant change of direction in his life. “I worked on Wall Street for a while, I was in finance, I just didn’t really like it, it wasn’t my thing,” says Daniels. “So I ended up stopping that a couple years back and I went to brewing school in Chicago at Siebel Institute of Technology and then Doemens Academy in Munich… it wasn’t really planned. I’ve always been a brewer. I’ve always been a home brewer. I had ten years of experience before I decided ‘let me see if this actually could work,’ and sure enough I went to school, came out, and Chelsea was the first brewery I talked to.”
As he stands behind the bar within the Brewery’s restaurant area, giant number labeled cylindrical kegs looming over his shoulder, Daniels begins sharing opinions on the movement and its shifting definitions. “I think one of the big distinctions should be made between microbreweries and craft. Everyone that was doing craft was micro because the market wasn’t big. But now we’ve got companies like Sierra Nevada… big craft brewers.” Daniels continues, “I do think that the craft brewing market continues to grow, and I think it’ll keep up for several, several years. It kind of goes in fits and starts, we’ll have a big uptrend then we’ll settle down for a while, then we’ll have a big uptrend again.”
Daniels points out the differences between craft and macro, saying, “Making beer in a big facility is all automatic. We’re doing this by hand,” says Daniels, then adding, “excuse me a minute.” He fills a glass with some beer from keg number five.
It seems there is plenty of craft beer spilling into waiting glasses throughout the country, but as Daniels points out, the cup is far from filled. “Now we’re almost back to the level before prohibition,” he says. “We used to have 4,000 breweries in the United States before prohibition, now we’re almost up to 2,000. Almost halfway there.”
The website brewersassociation.org actually listed 1,938 operating breweries in the United States during 2011.
Glass half full.