15 Things Craft Beer Fans Think (But Nobody Says)

Crack a brew and hop aboard the Real Talk Express.


It's a glorious era for the American beer drinker. We've got talented and passionated brewers making stellar beers in every single state across the country, an IPA revolution that's brought us hops we didn't even know existed, and a community that's spilled over beyond our borders to inspire folks in countries as far-flung as Norway and Japan. Sometimes you have to pinch yourself to remember that 20 years ago, the landscape was a whole lot different, with just a few brave breweries on the front lines struggling to convert the first wave of craft-beer fanatics.

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But just because times are swell doesn't mean everything's all good. The industry is at a cross-roads, ushering in the third-wave of craft brewers and drinkers while shaking off its image as a mere underdog. As tap and shelf space becomes more competitive than ever, breweries have to balance their "we're all in this together" camaraderie with a survival instinct that doesn't always mean playing fair. And as the age of bigger-means-better extreme brewing plateaus (this means of differentiation from mass-market beers eventually became the prevailing attitude in the business), craft-brew fans are forced to reconsider what they really want from their beers, and to call BS on gimmicks that don't deliver.

So, just as we've done with kale and sketchy fish, we decided it was time to open up a conversation about some big issues in the beer world that too often get swept under the rug. Do we believe in all of these statements 100%? No—as you'll notice, some of them are even at odds with one another. But these are topics that tend to come up with brewers, publicans, and fellow beer lovers once a few pints go down the hatch and taboos go out the window.

Good beer and honest conversation have always been fine bedfellows, so let's talk, shall we?

Written by Joshua M. Bernstein (@JoshMBernstein), Chris O'Leary (@brew_york), and Chris Schonberger (@cschonberger)

Click to start the list
  • Joe

    Why wouldn’t I? The beer in my backyard SUCKS!

    • http://twitter.com/wydu Trav G

      You must be from the south…

      • Abstract77

        The southeastern US is the fastest growing market in the Country. You might want to consider familiarizing yourself with the rapid changes that are occurring in Atlanta, New Orleans, North Carolina, and Florida.

    • Orlock

      The beer in MY BACKYARD is awesome. Hell, it was made there. LOL Homebrew beer > craft brew beer

      • TCombel

        Moving back to the US soon. I can’t wait to get back to home brewing!

  • RoBeRtOe

    Ohp….looks like the Plinys were already sold out.

  • Dale

    I have been selling craft beer on premise and at a high volume for 7 years here in Chicago and I have yet to see any evidence of a “pay to play” mentality. I get frustrated when Chicago continually is strapped with this label. Ours is a great craft beer community and most operate with honor, dignity and a sense of passion. I wouldn’t want anything to tarnish the image that we local retailers, reps and salesman work hard to protect.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Whaleskin Ryan Carter

      Do you offer any incentives for on premise?

  • Robert


    Sad.. but true-ish. 5 Rabbit Cervecería out of Chicago is definitely a step in the right direction.

  • http://www.facebook.com/trey.elder.5 Trey Elder

    “Pay-to-play” is common practice in big-box grocery store chains for all product placement, not just beer. It may be aggravating, but no one is sounding the alarm here. If breweries refused to play along, big-box could care less. ALL of their products get things like end-cap placement this way.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1035622097 facebook-1035622097

      It is illegal with alcoholic beverages to “pay to play” or what is known as slotting fees for other food stuffs. It is not the activity of “pay to play” that is the issue, it is the illegal activity that is the concern,

  • MadScotsman

    To my mind, most American craft beers are too cold, too fizzy, and over
    hyped (but still miles ahead of Big Beer). There’s a lack of reverence
    for the history of beer or for creating a legacy that might last
    hundreds of years. I lived through the CAMRA revolution in the UK in
    the 70’s and it’s sad that that concept doesn’t exist here. To get my
    business, craft brewers should be more open to Cask Conditioned ales
    rather than taking the trendy way out and just over-hopping everything.
    Remember, there are two reasons for cold beer – one is just that it’s a
    cold drink, fine for a hot day, but the other is that cold kills the
    taste buds – if you really like the taste of beer, stop chilling it.

    we’re getting our panties in a bunch about whether a beer is a craft
    beer (based on volume) or knocking a beer because it was contact brewed,
    then we’re simply part of a trade organization promoting a particular
    group of manufacturers. An example from the UK in the 70’s was
    Courage’s Directors Bitter – an excellent beer from one of the Mega Brewers. An example from today is my current favourite, Heavy Lift Vessel from Trader Joe’s (and only $2 for 750ml but that’s just a bonus), which I assume is either contract brewed or just relabeled (and which never sees the inside of my fridge).

    I guess I’m more of a traditionalist. I prefer a beer I know and love and am not swayed by the new and shiny.

    Cheers, Neil.

    • David

      These thoughts closely resemble my own. I shudder when I go to my local TotaWine, seeing IPA after IPA, uber-hopped and with offensively catchy names to boot. I usually walk a little further down the aisle to the European brews.

      I didn’t know that CAMRA began in the 70s (wasn’t alive then), but I do love cask ales. Thankfully, a couple bars in the DC area have begun to offer them.

      • TCombel

        I live in The Netherlands and have been enjoying some great Belgian, German, and Dutch beers. But I really miss the modern styles. It’s really hard for the traditional styles to stand out. And at the good stores, I see dozens of Blondes, Bruins, Tripels, Quads, Abdij Ale (abbey ale), Krieks, and a few Guezes. Oh look! An IPA!!!

        Might just be a matter of perspective.

    • TCombel

      Let your beer warm some and pour it hard. Two problems solved. If it tastes like crap, then it’s a crap beer, but don’t judge it on the temperature or carbonation.

  • The Professor

    100% right… great article. The craft beer industry (and the Brewer’s Association in particular) does seem to be believing in it’s own hype a bit too much.

    As far as the comment that buying IPAs becoming a crapshoot: I’ll go a step further and say that buying ANY new craft beer is a crapshoot. There’s some great stuff out there to be sure, but lately it’s really become a 50/50 proposition these days that you’ll wind up with a bottle of liquid crap. Be thankful for those single bottle retailers of the world…they are the best way to audition new offerings, which result in a lot of one-time purchases and preventing the waste of money, especially given the prices of some of these beers (where the inflated pprice is nowhere near commensurate with the quality).

    The very notion that the craft industry invented good beer is total bollocks. That they raised the bar somewhat and made more quality products is undeniable, but even in the ‘old days’ (pre-1975) better beers were available, though they were harder to track down …but they were definitely there.
    I could name a good number of products from back then that would still compete against or even totally blow away anything made today (a handful of them would even be considered “world class”).

  • http://www.facebook.com/david.roseman David Roseman

    “By and large, brewers are mainly white.”

    Really? Are you actually throwing race into this? How should race ever be brought up to make a point? Who cares who is who. The color of someones’ skin should never come into any conversation, EVER. Is this really a problem with your view of beer nowadays? Can’t you just talk about beer.

    • Chris Schonberger

      @facebook-770802649:disqus Really? Do you live in America? Would love it if your postracial vision were true and we didn’t have to ever talk about the “color of someone’s skin,” but in reality, ignoring it would be disingenuous. In addition to delicious beer, one of the best parts about craft beer is the awesome community surrounding it. Think about how much better it could be if it were more diverse.

      • Stephen Johnson

        Who’s fault is it if there are not more brewer’s of color in the industry.. I certainly don’t pick my beer based on the color of the brewers skin .. in fact most people who are drinking beer have no idea who even brewed it .. let alone what race they are … I agree with David .. that was a stupid issue to bring up, and insults the community at large, as though it is somehow keeping people of color out of its pristine white walls.. LAME.

        • Diane Jones

          No one said it was anyone’s fault. It was an observation and an accurate one. I don’t feel insulted as a member of the craft beer community. A similar observation about the relatively small number of women brewers could be made, I guess that is off limits too?

          • TCombel

            The observation led to the opinion: “It’s a shame that brewers are such a uniform hue.”

      • Sheakub

        Are you suggesting that any criteria for beer, other than taste, should be considered? “Ah I’ll have that one because it is made by an asian…”
        What kind of philosophical knot do you weave yourself into each day?
        I don’t lead with my race, and neither should you be guilted into it. If my son shoves his race in anyone’s face I’m going to ground him until he’s eighteen. It’s not acceptable to introduce race into everything. Let’s judge by the content of one’s character and not by the color of their skin – and that judgement will be in the form of taste when it comes to craft brew.

        • TCombel

          Exactly. Considering the race of a brewer is racist. It doesn’t matter what race you prefer,it’s racist.

          Just drink the damn beer!

    • Diane Jones

      The observation that craft beer brewers are mostly white is certainly a legitimate observation. No one was saying this is someone’s fault or that the beer tastes different. But the racial as well as gender diversity of the craft beer industry is not a taboo topic. Just like it should not be taboo in discussions regarding any job or industry, from corporate CEOs to flight attendants. If you don’t want the topic of race to come into any of YOUR conversations, “EVER” this is certainly your privilege. But others are not cinstrained by your choices and the topic of the entire piece was to present issues that are often not discussed in the craft beer community, except perhaps privately.

  • Sultan

    Oh yeah BOOOO white people. We hate them, too many of them! If only some proud people of color made beer, surely then it would be good! When I’m enjoying a nice craft beer, I’m almost afraid to see who makes it, just in case it’s a cracker whitey honkey ofay ghost looking fool and I have to spit it out.

    • TCombel

      You might have gone a bit far, but I think you made your point.

  • nick petrunin

    It’s about merit, not your ill conceived notions of equality.

  • TurdFerguson

    What are yall talking about? Niggers make toilet hooch everyday in prison! Or are you too privileged to try it?

  • WineClubReviews

    In regards to #15 – “barely ever brewing the same recipe twice yet almost always delivering something balanced and tasty.” This might be exciting for the craft beer community, but it is a problem for the consumer.

    It’s a known problem in the wine industry for sure…any given “boutique” wine from vintage to vintage will be different, and this means consumers can only rarely have go-to wines in that category.

    Breweries run the same risk if they don’t make the same recipes from year to year… how do I develop a favorite? A love of a brewery? If every time I experience it it’s different? This is an opportunity for breweries to better than boutique winemakers and have the equivalent of an NV (non-vintage) wine, so that I know every time I order it, I’ll enjoy my beer.

    • TCombel

      It’s not a real problem, though. Most decent breweries keep their base lineup and add specialties here and there. It’s at least 10 to 1 quality breweries that keep their base lineup vs. typically nomadic breweries that do not;

      • Brian Crocker

        Yes, very much. The balance of “here are our staples – you can always find them; here are seasonals – we’ll often brew the same ones, but we’ll play and try to perfect the recipe – maybe one will become a staple if it’s popular enough; here are our one-offs, firkin kegs, special sample runs, limited editions, etc that once they are gone, we may or may not make it again, and if we do, chances are it’s going to be different” is important to any brewer. Most follow that formula, to greater and lesser degree.

    • BarrierBrewingCo.

      That statement isn’t correct. As one of the owners and brewers of Barrier Brewing Co. I can tell you that, in fact, every one of our beers is brewed multiple times throughout the year. Yes, we brew a lot of them (over 60 at last count) but none is a one-off batch. We rotate through our whole portfolio of beers all year long. If you find one you like you’ll have plenty of opportunities to enjoy it again. If it’s a good beer why wouldn’t we want to brew it again and again?! We love the shout out though. It’s nice to know there’s some people out there who appreciate what we do.

  • Huck Fin

    Can’t finish this article due to the popup ads…

  • http://www.facebook.com/gmcwalker Glenn Walker

    I do not agree with all points here but it is a great read on what is happening today. I work for a winery selling wine for a living but after work I drink beer “As it takes a lot of beer to make wine”. I live near the Hop Highway.

    The main point that I feel about beer that was not touched upon by the authors of the article, which perhaps they forgot in their enthusiasim over a great write is this:

    To the average craft beer drinker, not the brewer, but the consumer, it is not the type of beer/ale, style of beer/ale, the ABV of the beer/ale, the IBU of the beer/ale, the hops of the beer/ale, the yeast of the beer/ale, the oaking of the beer/ale, the history of the beer/ale, that matters at all.

    At the end of the day all that matters to all of us is the most simple thing.

    What we like and do not like!

    As we are different it keep the new stuff coming, which is good for all.

  • Sonya

    Pay to Play is indeed illegal (at least in NY State) but that doesn’t stop distributors from engaging in it.The important distinction, however, is it’s the DISTRIBUTOR engaging in it & not the brewery. Very few breweries have enough clout to dictate what their distributor does in the field.

  • BrewingKash

    I know African American brewers, Mexican Brewers, Asian brewers, Indian Brewers…. Why does it matter what race creates the beer. What a stupid point to make. It’s all about the quality of the beer in the glass, not the lack of diversity in the brew house.

    • TCombel

      Another instance of attempted forced diversity. Does ANYONE check the race or sex of a brewer BEFORE they try a beer?

  • http://www.facebook.com/scott.clements Scott Clements

    ….This Message brought to you by Budweiser “The Best Beer Ever…Drink Cheap America…we don’t taste good, but we are within your budget!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/barry.homebrew Barry Baconologist

    #14 Brewers have given up quality for gimmicky beers. Rogue’s maple bacon beer is a prime example of selling us kitsch over quality. Triple IPA’s are nothing more than penis measuring contests among brewers and beer snobs. I don’t need to be punched in the face with a bag of hops every time I have a drink. I like a strong beer from time to time, but I usually have to drive home from the bar.
    OK, I’ll come out and say it: Pliney the elder ain’t all that. The emperor has no clothes! It’s too much of everything. But maybe it would be better if it was aged in a sherry cask and infused with shiitake mushrooms and red pepper and infused with bacon and chocolate (Sarcasm)

  • TCombel

    By and large, this article seems like a bitch fest. I’m not thinking pretty much any of this. And I am a good beer drinker. And I enjoy GABF.

  • matt

    please stop using slideshows.

  • Brian Crocker

    Almost none of my beer money goes to major beer companies. The craft market in Halifax, Nova Scotia and surrounding areas is so freaking good I don’t have to. That said, while I have learned to appreciate a good hoppy beer, and like “one hop” ales, where the brewer finds one hop and then crafts a beer around it to accentuate the flavors and experience, I am not on the “west coast IPA/triple IPA/shove every hop into a bottle” trend. It’s focusing on one aspect over all the others. I trend “malt” more than hops – I like rich, dark, malty, flavorful beers most of all. I like balance. It’s great to try a dipa once an a while – and there are some that, while challenging drinking experiences are totally worth the time it takes to appreciate, those are vanishingly small experiences; one and done.
    But I will never say “don’t do that” or “stop it” – variation and experimentation – even ones I don’t personally like – is far far better than the beer market I grew into, where it’s a handful of crappy macros that all taste the same and nothing else, unless you were lucky enough to live near one of the handful of brewpubs in the early 90s (I did, but didn’t discover it until later in my drinking life).

  • beer guy/ ad guy

    In point #4, just curious as to why you’d “…agree that Blue Moon is not a craft beer.” If it’s not about the BA’s definition, but rather the process of brewing as you note… why would Blue Moon NOT be a craft beer?

  • voxullus

    Isn’t this all just a cumbersome way of saying that the US has no proper beer culture and that it’s “craft” breweries are actually overcompensating for years and years of tasteless swill with no real method or clue what they are looking for?

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