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What Is Craft Beer?

The words craft beer appear in dozens of magazine and book titles; it seems like every city has a craft beer week; breweries make it part of their names; a chain of stores has Craft Beer Cellar; and the word itself is part of our everyday vocabulary. But what exactly is craft beer? What makes it different from domestic beer? And how did it become so widely adopted and embraced?

The answer isn’t as simple as it appears. In the late 1960s and 1970s, American society was restless. The Vietnam War, Watergate and the general sense of economic malaise caused a decline in confidence in government and big business. This “counterculture” mindset fed a do-it-yourself aesthetic that found expression in brewing and many other industries. Homebrewing became legal and a new generation of beer drinkers began to crave more flavorful brews than the bland, industrial-style lagers that were all but ubiquitous at the time.

Vince Cottone, a writer for All About Beer magazine, coined the term craft beer in 1980, although the concept had been developing for years before that. He chose the term because it fit best with his vision of a movement that encompassed a wide range of beer styles, from the bitter, hoppy India Pale Ale to the viscous, boozy bourbon barrel-aged stout. The Brewers Association’s definition of craft beer reflects this broad range and has largely helped guide its growth. But recently, the organization has tinkered with the definition, raising it from 2 million barrels to 6 million to allow for the inclusion of larger breweries like Sam Adams, which produces a number of popular craft beers but is still owned by macro brewery AB InBev.

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