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What Is Craft Beer?

The term craft beer has become synonymous with a certain kind of flavorful, well-made drink that stands apart from the mass-produced lagers favored by the big breweries. It’s been part of countless beer-related TV shows and festivals, many breweries have made it a part of their names, and you can now find it in dozens of bars and stores. But what exactly is it?

The answer is a bit more complicated than you might think. While there are now more breweries than ever before, the industry is still split between massive brands that distribute nationwide and small breweries that can’t even sell their beer to the next town over. And the definition of what qualifies as craft beer is constantly changing, as breweries come and go and as the field goal posts move.

Some brewers want to hold on to old traditions, whether they’re following the strict German purity laws of Reinheitsgebot or sticking to the basics like water, barley and hops. Others are more interested in experimenting with ingredients or inventing new equipment that takes flavors to the next level. And the whole movement is fueled by social media, which gives small breweries the reach that even a major publication doesn’t have.

In recent years, macrobreweries have responded to the growing popularity of craft beer by buying up a number of independent breweries in hopes of tapping into their success. While these acquisitions have slowed down since Constellation’s disastrous $1bn purchase of craft darling Ballast Point, the battle for the beer-drinking hipster’s heart is far from over.

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