Does the US now have its own, mature beer culture?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by herrburgess, Sep 4, 2022.

  1. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,180) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    as those of us who have been around a while know, US beer culture (esp around "craft" beer) has continued to evolve rapidly. From UK influences in the 90s to huge hoppy beers in the 00s to pastry stouts and hazies in the 10s to fruited sours and beyond (thus far) in the 20s.

    lately these rapid changes and ever-new fan favorites seem to have settled somewhat. are we now to a point where we know what to expect from US "craft" beer culture for the foreseeable future? a mix/variety of hazies and pastries and fruited sours (with a few lagers or retro offerings thrown in)? or is another major shift coming? and, if so, what will it look like?
  2. bubseymour

    bubseymour Poo-Bah (3,561) Oct 30, 2010 Maryland
    Society Trader

    I would say yes, that the US has finally matured to having its own definitive craft beer culture that is not just in small obscure pockets of the US but reaches all parts of our society very widely now and can be fairly compared to Belgium, Germany and UK historical beer cultures.
  3. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,180) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    "mature" is a better word than "settled." wish I'd have gone with that. maybe the mods can adjust....
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  4. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (8,987) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    In the Philly area, thankfully at least a few of the best breweries are swinging the pendulum back towards European inspired traditonal styles. English pub ales, German and Czech Lagers. They might still also brew hazy IPAs, but there is some variety again, at least if you get beer direct from those breweries. Unfortunately the beer store shelves are still clogged with endless iterations of similar (and mostly mediocre) hazy IPAs.
    It seems the small breweries selling on-site and direct have that flexibility, but the older regional mid-size breweries that depend on selling distributed beer have settled on the least common denominator approach with IPAs.
  5. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,821) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I get what you are saying here but I think it would be remiss to not acknowledge that in the Philly area a number of craft breweries have produced 'traditional' beer styles several decades ago. For example:


    The flagship beer for Yards when they first opened in 1988 was ESA (Extra Special Ale) which was essentially an English Bitter Ale. And 'back in the day' ESA was available on cask. I have enjoyed many, many pints of Yards ESA on cask at Dawson's Pub in Philly a number of decades ago. I wish that Yards ESA on cask was readily available today in the Philly area; the last time I enjoyed this beer on cask was at the Yards taproom in Philly.


    When Victory first opened in 1996 the had three beers: Festbier (an Amber Oktoberfest), Brandywine Lager (A Dortmunder Export) and HopDevil (a malty IPA). And a year later a Pilsner (Prima Pils). Brandywine Lager is no longer produced but the other beers are still available.

    Sly Fox

    Sly Fox opened in 1995 and they early on produced a number of 'traditional' beers including an ESB, Helles, Pikeland Pils,... And both the Helles and Pikeland Pils is still available today.


    Troegs opened in 1997 and just like the above they produced 'traditional' beer early on (and still today).

    There are other examples beyond the above including Stoudts but the story is that in the Philly area 'craft' beer (called microbrewed back in the 1980's and 1990's) has been 'traditional' for a very long time.

    And yes, the newer craft breweries such as Workhorse, Von C, Locust Lane, Human Robot, Sterling Pig and on and on are doing 'traditional' today.

  6. tolar111

    tolar111 Meyvn (1,133) Aug 17, 2008 New York
    Society Trader

    Nope, unless you count waiting in line and chasing the next trend
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  7. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,194) Mar 12, 2013 California
    Society Trader

    I think the US beer culture is in the process of maturing. Some regions have maybe reached that point, and some regions may be maturing into their own unique twist on the broader version.

    To me I would point to Oregon as an early example of a mature version of American beer culture. Hoppy beers are definitely the dominate force, but there's a variety within that space and the general quality level is very high. There's a strong showing of classic European styles, a robust showing of high octane darker ale styles (with flavorings and barrel aging being common/the norm), there are farmhouse breweries and mixed culture/wild ale has a vibrant niche, and most importantly there is a baseline of excellence in the options available at any of bar, grocery store, gas station, or community event.
  8. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,180) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    any predictions as to what the next big trend might be?
  9. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,821) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    According to BA thread discussions: Cold IPA!

  10. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,194) Mar 12, 2013 California
    Society Trader

    @herrburgess let me turn the mirror back on you a bit. What do you think the response to your breweries approach tells us about the state of American beer culture?
  11. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,821) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

  12. tolar111

    tolar111 Meyvn (1,133) Aug 17, 2008 New York
    Society Trader

    No. I love the optimism about craft lagers, but that's not going to happen. More than likely, it will be another high ABV hoppy variation
  13. MadMadMike

    MadMadMike Defender (652) Dec 11, 2020 Florida
    Society Trader

    Over the last 30 years, I’ve gone from regional specialties (Genessee, Olympia) to malt liquor (OE 800), to having varieties of styles, and choices, and, in the process, identified my personal tastes.

    Within that, I “try everything”, but still gravitate to big hop bomb, high ABV TIPAs, everyday sud (Florida Man), and the maddest baddest adjunt Stout I can get hold of. (And I think most Sours are carbonated vomit.)

    The culture evolves. It must.
    Everybody in motion will land and new tasters are just getting started.
    The motion, my friends, is the blessing.
  14. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,180) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    i wonder if the dominant/ubiquitous culture might be the one we're seeing as i described above, with pockets or regional preferences (like classic west coast ipas in the pnw and lagers in sepa) of "resistance" dotting the landscape. then there may be weird exceptions that exist despite any trends: the stubborn wild fermentation devotees; the old-school 90s style holdouts; the franconian freaks. :sunglasses:

    but really we'll have to see. we're shifting major gears, and honestly i am not sure what exactly to expect. just trying to have fun either way, really.
  15. Braunmeister_1943

    Braunmeister_1943 Defender (690) Nov 22, 2020 Pennsylvania

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  16. crazyspicychef

    crazyspicychef Devotee (460) Sep 27, 2012 Pennsylvania

    Eventually most will sell to Big Beer.
  17. HouseofWortship

    HouseofWortship Meyvn (1,408) May 3, 2016 Illinois
    Society Trader

    The current trend is the proliferation of small local breweries in every town pulling business from bars. I think we’ll continue to see this for the foreseeable future while at some point regional craft eventually will tank. There will be some driving force whether water shortages, packaging material shortages, ingredient shortages or energy shortages that will profoundly change the larger beer operations and you’ll start to see mass consolidations of the regional big craft brands (Stone, Founders, Bells, Lagunitas, etc.) to squeeze closer to the Bud/Miller/Coors era of limited, cost effective options.
  18. PapaGoose03

    PapaGoose03 Poo-Bah (3,727) May 30, 2005 Michigan

    Until 30-35 years ago the American beer culture has been light lagers, and essentially all of it has been the AAL style. Then small breweries began popping up and brewing mostly classic styles, many based on English styles. Nowadays that movement has been evolving away from the wide selection of the classics and focusing more into hoppy styles and spin-offs, such as the DIPA, etc. This trend is continuing to see the growth in the number of small breweries, and hoppy beers seem to be where these new entries have decided where the profit will be.

    Our beer culture seems to have been regarded as desirable elsewhere because we're seeing it happening now in many other countries. If it is being copied, it must be a defined culture that others like and want to enjoy and profit from too.
  19. BitteNochEinWeissbier

    BitteNochEinWeissbier Aspirant (259) Aug 19, 2021 Pennsylvania

    Do you mean folks who like Rauchbiers? Count me in! :beer:
    Or do you mean folks who like Kellerbiers? Count me in there too! :beer:

    What about Bavarian bozos*? Definitely count me in there!

    *best I could come up with on short notice:flushed::innocent:

    I guess I should confess to being in (or right alongside) one of those regions of "resistance" that you describe. :wink:
  20. jmdrpi

    jmdrpi Poo-Bah (8,987) Dec 11, 2008 Pennsylvania

    Yes, but all of those breweries' offerings have drastically changed in the last 20 years- discontinuing many flagship and seasonal packaged beers in exchange for various IPAs. They are who I was referring to in my statement about mid-size regional breweries.
  21. BitteNochEinWeissbier

    BitteNochEinWeissbier Aspirant (259) Aug 19, 2021 Pennsylvania

    Sadly, this is likely what will happen in most cases. :frowning2:
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  22. Beer_Economicus

    Beer_Economicus Savant (958) Apr 8, 2017 Ohio

    The problem with the US is the mindset and purchasing/retail culture that has been ingrained into the American public. Americans are more likely than any other country to take out lots of debt, particularly credit card debt. While that was ongoing, there was marketing working hard (harder than in other countries) to convince people that they need, need, need the latest, best thing, and that you have to keep up with your neighbors. The problem is that in 2022, your neighbors are all over the US, not your physical neighbors. So, now your exposure isn’t just the best that you see in your family or around you in your physical neighbors, but with anyone your interact with.

    Couple this with the fact that the resale market for beer and whiskey is wild in the US, and it’s pretty easy to see how there has been a culture curated to get people to constantly seek out the hot new thing. That’s a problem, because it’s never about being content as it is about chasing the dragon. Lots of breweries ride the wave of hype and drive at it. The problem is that if breweries want to expand (even modestly) and grow and make more profit, they have to produce more, which generally drives down hype. So, the hype-beast/machine is a fickle monster.

    Lastly, To show just how bad the US is about this, look no further than Covid relief. As soon as people started getting any sort of Covid relief, secondary prices (on whiskey, at least) skyrocketed. I’m not saying that people misused funds, or bashing anyone, but it feels like a “only in the US” would people take relief checks and immediately turn them into purchases for $500-3K bottles of whiskey. That mentality is what is wrong with beer.

    As long as that mentality exists, the US culture won’t be settled or matured. That said, I think as a society we are starting to stagnate on IPAs with a super saturated market. But it will be 5 years or more, I bet, before more IPAs start disappearing.
  23. beer_beer

    beer_beer Defender (690) Feb 13, 2018 Finland

    I think America has meant much for beer. Innovation is the word coming to mind. And some innovation stays and matures. The AAL dominance kind of secured there wasn't "too much" domestic tradition to "take on" when the craft revolution started. You could take impressions from around the world and also partly because of great resources make something good out of it. If there are small failures, so much better for the process.

    Say what you will, but think American IPA has made a longstanding imprint.
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  24. russpowell

    russpowell Poo-Bah (12,573) May 24, 2005 Arkansas
    Society Trader

    Certainly much still in development. When Seltzer & other products can just wipe out shelf space, we have miles to go.
  25. AzfromOz

    AzfromOz Champion (885) Aug 22, 2020 Australia
    Moderator Society Trader

    This is spot on. You essentially just described the Australian brewing scene. Ten years ago we were America from 18 months before. Now we are America three months ago. Our craft beer journey followed your roadmap almost exactly, just substituting AALs for Australian lagers and bitters, which are now almost universally derided by the craft beer intelligentsia, at least until those beers become retro cool.

    I'm not complaining, but we definitely look to America for the trends and cycles and we ape the highs and lows, just a few months later.

  26. JerzDevl2000

    JerzDevl2000 Poo-Bah (4,660) Oct 7, 2005 New Jersey

    I'd say so, without a doubt.

    From what I understand, European beers and styles are very conservative. Many breweries have operated for centuries, doing the same thing that their forefathers did hundreds of years a go.

    If you want a Hefeweizen or Marzen, you go to Germany. Pilsners - Czech republic. Lambics - Belgium. Stouts - Ireland. ESB's - England.

    And so forth.

    Here in America, we've thrived in innovation, and that's just not when it comes to fermented barley malt beverages.

    These days, we have nearly 10,000 breweries in this country and many of them have made their mark and found their niche by pushing the envelope. Not all of them will succeed and thrive but many will and we'll be all the better for it in the end, as will the industry because of the results and new styles that will emerge from this risk-taking.

    Trends and cycles will come and go, and ebb and flow, but much of what lasts and sets the tone for future styles will come from this republic and those of us seeking the next best, or interesting, thing will be all the better for it!
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  27. alucard6679

    alucard6679 Aspirant (254) Jul 29, 2012 Arizona

    The US craft beer culture is somewhat unique compared to the cultures that we normally hold ourselves up against (UK, Germany, Belgium) in that our “coming of age” has occurred far later than any of these other places. Of course, this can be applied to more than just beer, but we are sort of the new kids on the block. Thing about that is, craft beer in this country has evolved over the past couple decades alongside technology, namely social media. This drastically differentiates our own trajectory as a beer culture from older and more established cultures. We’re dealing with practically speed of thought changes in direction, the hive mind at its peak, so to speak. This has to be taken into consideration. I don’t see us as settled, we’re in flux. This can be interesting to watch and rather sad as many legacy brands in the craft community struggle to keep up and ultimately fall behind. I’m curious to see where things go but I don’t pretend to have the faintest idea where it’s headed (I mean, for fucks sake, “ranch water” is all the rage)
  28. BigIronH

    BigIronH Poo-Bah (1,929) Oct 31, 2019 Michigan
    Society Trader

    Depends where you are I guess. So the answer should be a resounding “No”.

    If the United States had a mature, settled, beer scene, there wouldn’t be any back and forth regarding the statement.

    With that said, there are places, Michigan being one of them, that has what seems to be a very balanced beer scene. There seems to be something for everyone. The niche “hype” breweries still exist but definitely feel less “exclusive” than some out of state breweries would have you feel for being part of their community.

    I fully believe the next generation of drinkers will get to a point of a settled beer scene because they are being born and brought up in a world of choices, not expressing dismay for the half dozen beers they miss from 30 years ago when the selection was undoubtedly lesser. Cheers.
  29. Providence

    Providence Champion (829) Feb 24, 2010 Rhode Island

    Typical tap lists have beers that resemble kool aid, both in appearance and taste, and beers with a pillow case of Halloween candy added to them and you think we’re maturing?
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  30. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,180) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    OK. "settled" was the right word after all :grin:
  31. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,194) Mar 12, 2013 California
    Society Trader

    This is an snippet from a excerpt of 100 Years of Brewing , circa 1901, that @jesskidden posted in another thread that felt relevant to this question;

    Firstly, to note that our hop obsession goes back a long way. This is not a passing fad in American beer culture, for those of you expecting the ipa hegemony to wane any time soon. But secondly, as a reminder of how image oriented our broader culture is. Sure, 120 years ago it was a different appearance that drinkers demanded, but appearance was still (apparently) of paramount importance to them.

    This image consciousness is part of the fabric of American culture and it isn't going away. I wouldn't look at the Instagram ready appearance of certain American beer styles as a fad that indicates immaturity, but rather as a piece of what a fully American beer culture looks like. Afterall, quotes like that above from over a century ago can serve to remind us that part of the reason we have the ubiquitous AAL was brewers working to appease the visual demands of American consumers. We, as a society, care about how things look as much. Period. And we fucking love hops.
  32. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,821) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    “…we have the ubiquitous AAL was brewers working to appease the visual demands of American consumers.”

    And the AAL beer style that was developed in America in the second half of the 1800’s is not just appealing to “American consumers”. Worldwide the AAL is the top selling beer style. For example, the top selling beer in England is Carling Lager which is an AAL. The top selling beers in China are AAL beers with Snow being a popular brand. The top selling beers in Brazil are AAL beers (e.g., Skol, Brahma). The top selling beer in Canada is an AAL – Budweiser. And on and on…

    The aggregated top selling beer style in the world by far is AAL.

  33. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (3,108) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Society Trader

    I don't see why a beer culture needs to be monolithic to be considered mature. I foresee our culture as embracing change far into the future, and that our love of diversity is spreading to other areas of the world. We aren't a culture that worships sameness in many things, I think we should expect it least of all in something like beer with so many delicious variations.
  34. jesskidden

    jesskidden Poo-Bah (2,543) Aug 10, 2005 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    Well... to be accurate, it was an "obsession" that skipping a generation (or three)...:wink:
    US Brewing Industry
    Hop Usage Average


    1935 - .70
    1940 - .58
    1945 - .43
    1950 - .43
    1955 - .37
    1960 - .33
    1965 - .29
    1970 - .23
    1975 - .21
    1980 - .22
    1985 - .21
    1990 - .22
    1995 – .2
    2000 – .1
    2005 – .1
    2008 – .3

    Source: Brewers Almanacs
    - United States Brewers Association/Beer Institute
  35. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,180) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    you think the current culture we're witnessing will stick around more or less in this form for a while? or see a major shift (or two...or three) coming like has happened frequently before?
  36. Providence

    Providence Champion (829) Feb 24, 2010 Rhode Island

    As alluded to above, I think our beer culture has devolved. Tap lists all around me tend to break down like this: 60% IPAs- which are barely distinguishable, either in appearance or taste, from one another, 25% Shitty sours and stuff with fruit puree in it, 10% stouts that are loaded with desert-like additives, and 5% "lagers" marketed as "hey, it's just beer man, don't overthink it, just kick back like your grandpa did." Meanwhile, classic brewers who were instrumental in craft are selling out to BMC or becoming IPA factories.

    And with all that said, I'm fine with it. We're light years ahead of the days where a sixer of Magic Hat #9 took your breath away. So, while I'm most certainly complaining, I'm not really looking for it to change. So long as we have brewers like Notch, Schilling, Jack's Abby, Fox Farm, OEC, and Kent Falls in my neck of the woods, I'm a happy camper. And I know brewers are in it to make ends meet and they gotta do what they gotta do. But this thread is about the "culture" of American craft beer. And to me, the overall term of "craft beer" or "beer nerd" in America no longer conveys something or someone who is mature. It conveys someone who is drinking stouts brewed with creamsickles, while snapping a pic of an IPA that looks exactly like the last IPA they uploaded to social media, while talking to the bartender about how "The big brewers had it right when they put out Bud Heavy, some stuff is just classic and unbeatable."
  37. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (3,108) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Society Trader

    I would nevr bet on things in this country staying the same for very long, including beer styles we enjoy to drink, where we drink them, and how we drink them.

    It's hard to compare our country to other countries. There was more diversity of ethnic origins in ten square blocks where I once lived in Jackson Heights, NY than in some entire countries in Europe. Our tastes run that same gamut, and in my opinion variety and change in things we love make for a better culture than revering traditions and staying the same.
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  38. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,821) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Well, a counterargument here would be AAL beers. For example Budweiser was first brewed in 1876 and despite falling sales over the past few decades lots of Budweiser is still being consumed today; 16 million barrels in the US in 2014 and a lower value today but if you consider the worldwide sales of Budweiser (including Bud Light) the sales volume is HUGE!!

  39. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,821) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    Well, sales of Bud Heavy has steadily declined over the past few decades but AB still sells millions of barrels of this product. If you consider Bud Light to be a 'new' classic then sales of that product is HUGE!

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  40. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,821) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    I am uncertain what craft beer styles will be the ‘it’ beer(s) in the next decade but below is something I posted in a past thread concerning the US craft beer industry:

    "It seems to me that the craft brewing business model is 'evolving' whereby the vast majority of craft breweries are small, local breweries and in all likelihood will remain small and local.

    If beers are brewed locally and purchased locally, I can anecdotally report that in my area (SEPA) fresh beer is readily available.

    Maybe what we will see in the coming years is less and less beer sold, by volume, via a nationwide (or regional) distributed basis.”