What is Craft Beer?

Craft beer has taken the world by storm, becoming a favorite choice for many seeking unique flavors and artisanal brewing techniques. But what exactly is craft beer, and how does it differ from its commercial counterparts?

  • Craft beer is made by small and independent breweries using traditional ingredients and unique brewing techniques, resulting in distinct taste profiles.
  • The craft beer industry originated from the rise of microbreweries in the 1970s, who focused on quality and variety over mass production.
  • Different types of craft breweries include microbreweries, nano breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, regional breweries, and farm breweries. Each has its own unique characteristics and offerings.

Defining Craft Beer

Craft beer is a type of beer that is made with traditional ingredients and brewed in small amounts by independent craft breweries.

What Makes A Craft Beer A Craft Beer?

First and foremost, what sets craft beer apart from mass-produced beer is its focus on high-quality ingredients and unique flavors.

Instead of using cheap adjuncts like rice or corn, craft brewers often opt for traditional ingredients such as malted barley to create rich, full-bodied brews with distinct taste profiles.

Read More; Adjuncts in beer explained

Another key aspect of craft beer is the brewing process itself.

Craft breweries typically operate on a smaller scale than major beer producers, which allows them more flexibility in experimenting with different styles and techniques.

This fosters innovation within the industry as these passionate brewers are always pushing the envelope by combining new methods with age-old traditions.

What Came First: The Craft Beer Or Craft Brewery?

The craft beer and craft brewery movement have a fascinating history that goes hand in hand. The inception of the term “craft beer” can be traced back to the mid-1980s when a Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist coined it, but the movements roots dig even deeper.

This wave of microbreweries paved the way for what we now recognize as craft breweries. These trailblazers started with humble beginnings, often brewing out of their homes or garages before transitioning into full-fledged commercial spaces.

As interest in artisanal brewing techniques grew among beer enthusiasts, demand went up for more unique flavors and styles crafted by these innovative brewers – giving birth to what is popularly known today as craft beers.

What Defines A Craft Beer?

Defining a craft beer can be a bit tricky, as there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. One major factor that plays a role in the definition is production size.

According to the Brewer’s Association, a craft brewer produces 6 million barrels of beer or less annually. Another key component is ownership; the brewery must be at least 75% independently owned.

But what truly sets craft beers apart from their mass-produced counterparts are their ingredients and flavors.

Craft beers typically use traditional ingredients like malted barley but often incorporate unique and non-traditional components to create distinct tastes and aromas.

For example, think of an ale infused with locally-sourced honey or even exotic spices from around the world – these special combinations exemplify the essence of craft brewing techniques, highlighting experimentation and craftsmanship within each bottle or pint served.

What’s The Difference Between Craft Beer And Regular Beer?

Craft beer and regular beer differ in various aspects. The primary difference is in the production process. While mass-produced, commercial beers are typically made with cheaper ingredients to keep costs low, craft beer is brewed using traditional ingredients like malted barley and hops.

Another significant difference between craft beer and regular beer is the size of the breweries that produce them.

Craft breweries usually have smaller operations than large breweries that produce commercial beers.

Furthermore, the taste profiles of craft beers can be vastly different from those of commercial or regular beers as they tend to bring out more flavor notes using alternative ingredients like fruits or spices or mixed fermentation processes for wild ales such as sours or barrel-aged brews.

Types Of Craft Breweries

Craft breweries come in various sizes and types, including microbreweries, nano breweries, brewpubs, taprooms, regional breweries, and farm breweries.

Read about the Differences Between a Craft Brewery, Microbrewery & Gastropub


Microbreweries typically produce 15,000 barrels or less of beer per year and must sell at least 75% or more of that beer in off-site locations.

These small breweries allow for a high level of experimentation as they avoid the shortcuts used by larger macrobreweries resulting in a higher alcohol content.

Additionally, microbreweries tend to focus on environmentally-friendly practices such as water conservation and locally-sourced ingredients.

One example of an exceptional microbrewery is Thompson Island Brewing Company located just outside Boston, Massachusetts.

Nano Breweries

As the name suggests, nano breweries are incredibly small craft breweries that typically produce beer on a much smaller scale than traditional microbreweries.

In fact, most nanobreweries are run by just one or two brewers and can be operated out of a home kitchen or small commercial space.

Nanobreweries thrive on creativity and experimentation to create flavors that stand out from the crowd.

Because they’re only producing small batches of beer, these types of breweries have more freedom to use local and unique ingredients to create distinctive tastes.

Many nanobrewers emphasize quality over quantity and put all their efforts into making a handful of exceptional beers rather than mass-producing lesser-quality ones.


One of the most popular types of craft breweries is known as a brewpub. These unique establishments combine the art of brewing with the hospitality industry, creating a casual and welcoming atmosphere for beer lovers to gather and enjoy fresh, locally brewed beers alongside delicious meals.

A great example is Thompson Island Brewing Company in Delaware, which not only serves its own high-quality craft beer but also offers a rotating selection of guest taps to keep customers coming back for more.

The brewery’s dining room and bar are perfect for intimate gatherings, while its porch and beer garden provide plenty of space for larger groups or events.


I absolutely love taprooms – they are one of my favorite ways to experience craft beer! Taprooms are similar to brewpubs in that they allow customers to taste and enjoy different types of craft beer directly from the source.

However, taprooms generally do not have a restaurant component; instead, they focus solely on serving up delicious and unique beers.

Many taprooms offer seating options ranging from indoor tables to outdoor patios, making them great places for friends or family members to gather around some tasty brews.

Farm Breweries

One particular type of craft brewery that has gained popularity in recent years is the farm brewery. These breweries prioritize using locally sourced ingredients in their beer production, which can support local agriculture and economies.

By using nearby farm ingredients, these breweries connect more intimately with their community and hold a strong connection to local businesses. Some examples of popular farm breweries include The Eagle and The Spotted Pig in New York City.

Not only do these establishments offer unique flavors through their use of fresh, seasonal ingredients but they also contribute to environmental sustainability by reducing transportation emissions.

Craft Beer Styles

Craft beer comes in a variety of styles including popular options like IPAs, stouts and porters, sours and wild ales, lagers and pilsners, specialty and experimental beers, as well as non-alcoholic craft brews.

IPAs (India Pale Ales)

India Pale Ales, or IPAs, are one of the most popular beer styles in the craft beer world. They are known for their strong hop flavor and bitterness, which comes from using a significant amount of hops during the brewing process.

Traditionally brewed with pale malts, IPAs have evolved over time to include different sub-styles such as West Coast IPA, New England IPA, and Black IPA. The bitterness of an IPA is typically measured in International Bitterness Units (IBUs), ranging from moderately bitter to extremely bitter.

These beers often pair well with spicy or bold-flavored foods, making them a favorite among foodies and beer enthusiasts alike.

Stouts And Porters

Being Irish, I have a soft spot for stouts and porters. These dark beers are brewed with roasted malts, giving them their distinct flavor and color.

Stouts are typically heavier in body than porters, with a creamy mouthfeel due to the addition of oats or lactose.

Both stouts and porters have historical roots in England but have evolved over time into different styles such as oatmeal stout, imperial porter, and barrel-aged variations.

Many craft breweries experiment with adding unique ingredients like coffee beans or vanilla to create even more complex flavors. When it comes to food pairings, stouts and porters go well with rich dishes like grilled meats or hearty stews.

Read More; A Guide to the Best Ale for Stew

Sours And Wild Ales

I love the creativity and experimentation of sours and wild ales. These unique styles offer an array of flavors that are distinct from traditional beers.

Sours are brewed using specific yeast strains and bacteria, producing tart or sour flavors.

The sour beer category includes styles such as Berliner Weisse, Gose, Lambic, and Flanders Red Ale.

For example, Lambics are spontaneously fermented with wild yeasts found in the air around Brussels to create complex fruity flavors like cherry or raspberry.

Lagers And Pilsners

Lagers and Pilsners are two popular styles of beer often associated with mass-market productions, but craft breweries have been able to elevate these classic styles with their own twists.

Lagers are a type of beer that is fermented and conditioned at low temperatures, resulting in a crisp and refreshing taste that’s perfect for hot summer days. Some popular lager styles include Munich Helles Lager, Vienna Lager, and American Light Lager.

Recommendation: The Best Lager Beers Ranked

Pilsners are similar to lagers but have a more pronounced hop flavor due to the use of noble hops, which give the beer its signature bitterness.

Recommendation: The Best Pilsner Beers Ranked

Many craft breweries have taken on these traditional styles by using unique ingredients or brewing techniques to create innovative beers.

Specialty And Experimental Beers

Specialty and experimental beers are often associated with craft beer styles, as they push the boundaries of traditional brewing techniques to create distinct flavors and aromas.

These types of beers incorporate various ingredients like coffee, chocolate, herbs, fruits, and spices to add complexity to their flavor profiles.

One example is The Spotted Pig’s “Sazerac,” which is an Imperial Stout aged in Sazerac whiskey barrels with additions of licorice root, lemon peel, sugar cubes, and bitters.

Another excellent specialty beer is Thompson Island Brewing Company’s “Golden Ale.” They brewed it using local honey from Massachusetts bees for added sweetness and floral hints.

Non-Alcoholic Craft Beers

As a craft beer enthusiast, I must admit that non-alcoholic beers aren’t usually the first option that comes to mind when trying out new brews. However, in recent years, more and more craft breweries have started to experiment with this category.

And let me tell you, some of them are quite impressive! Non-alcoholic craft beers are essentially made in the same way as traditional ones but have little to no alcohol content.

One of my favourite non-alcoholic craft beer is the BrewDog Non-Alcoholic Range

Non-Alcoholic Beer

In Stock

Brewdog Punk AF

BrewDog USA Punk AF Non-Alcoholic beer

  • With an alcohol content of 0.5% ABV, Punk AF provides a guilt-free option for those who want to enjoy the taste of beer without the intoxicating effects.
  • It’s a versatile beverage that can be enjoyed anytime during a workout, after work, or during social gatherings.

How To Drink Craft Beer?

– Use the right glassware: Different styles of craft beer have their own unique glasses, which can enhance the drinking experience.

– Check the temperature: Most craft beers taste best between 45-55°F (7-13°C), so make sure your beer is chilled to the correct temperature before drinking.

– Pour with care: A proper pour allows you to appreciate the aroma and flavor of your craft beer fully.

Tilt your glass at a 45-degree angle and pour slowly down the side until it’s about half full.

Then straighten up and pour directly into the center of the glass until it’s about three-quarters full.

– Look at its appearance: Take a moment to look at your poured beer – color? clarity? head retention?

Smell its aroma – floral? fruity? spicy?


– take small sips first; what are your initial impressions?

Are there distinct flavors coming through such as hops or spices?

Is it sweet or bitter?

Is there any aftertaste?

What is its mouthfeel like

-Take notes: If you’re trying different types of craft beers, take notes about each one so you can remember which ones you liked best and why.

-Food pairings : Try pairing different beer styles with food (stouts go well with chocolate desserts).

Remember that enjoying craft beer is all about experimenting with new flavors and aromas, so don’t be afraid to try something new!

Final Thought: Not All “Craft” Beer Is Good – Not All “Big” Beer Is Bad

So, what is craft beer? Put, it’s a type of beer made by small and independent breweries using traditional ingredients and unique brewing techniques.

From microbreweries to brewpubs and regional breweries, the craft beer industry has grown exponentially over the years, with India Pale Ales being one of the most popular styles.

But not all “craft” beer is good – just as not all “big” beer is bad. It’s important to explore different flavors, experiment with food pairings and support local businesses that prioritize sustainability and community involvement.

Whether you’re a seasoned enthusiast or just getting started on your craft beer journey, there’s something out there for everyone to enjoy.


What is craft beer?

Craft beer is a type of beer that’s brewed by small, independent breweries using traditional brewing methods and high-quality ingredients. Craft brewers focus on creativity and flavor experimentation to produce unique and distinctive brews.

How does craft beer differ from regular beer?

Craft beer differs from regular or mass-produced beers in several ways, including its higher quality ingredients, smaller production quantities, and more varied styles. Craft beers are also often produced locally or regionally rather than being distributed nationally or internationally.

Are all craft beers made the same way?

No, while there are some general guiding principles for crafting a good quality brew such as using premium malts & hops – each individual brewer has their own take on creating unique flavors using different combinations of yeasts; water & other adjunct ingredients (e.g., fruit purees) that can alter smoothness/aroma/taste profile based upon preferences shared within specific communities/followings alike.

Dan Smullen Beer is my life profile

Hi, I'm Dan, founder of BeerIsMyLife. I've been an avid homebrewer for over ten years, and beer is my true passion. I've traveled all over the world, visiting breweries, tasting beer, as well as making my own batches. I set up this blog to share that experience with you.