Beer is undoubtedly a popular beverage – in fact, it accounts for almost half of all alcoholic beverages purchased in the US alone and recently, in the past decade, sales within the craft beer sector have started to climb.
According to the Brewer’s Association of America, “Today’s craft brewers have taken the main styles of beer from great brewing countries, such as Belgium, England and Germany and added their own twist by increasing the amount of ingredients used and by using new and non-traditional beer ingredients, or altering the brewing process. These changes have resulted in more flavor [sic] and diversity in today’s beers. For those who appreciate choice, it’s a very good time to be a beer lover”.
As the trend towards appreciating and savouring the flavours of beer grows, many consumers are considering it as an alternative to wine. Like many wines, craft beer competes on the basis of diversity and quality, rather than low price or brand recognition. Good quality beers are however, readily available to everyone, often at a much lower cost than a wine of the equivalent quality.
Countries like France, widely associated with gastronomy and fine wine, have seen a boom in their craft beer sales. Nicolas Julhés, owner of the upmarket Julhés Paris delicatessen spoke recently of the competition that beer is offering the wine market. More and more people are buying beer to share with friends – especially as the popular 75cl craft beer bottles stand as an affordable and surprising new alternative to the traditional bottles of wine on the table.
As a result of this shift from wine to beer, craft beer festivals have also gained popularity, as places to sample and savour different brews in a social environment, without the highbrow associations that seem to accompany wine tastings. Because of its humble beginnings, beer tasting does not demand the same level of knowledge from the consumer that wine tasting often does. While food and wine pairings are well-established events, we now also see a move towards food and beer pairings, becoming especially popular in the UK, USA, South Africa and New Zealand. From a Thai dish made with spicy pale ale to a coffee beer alongside your dessert, beer offers a variety of choices to suit all palettes.
With wine lists shrinking to make room for increasingly varied beer menus, it seems that the craft beer movement is set to stay. Why not surprise your dinner host with a St. Stefanus Blonde or St. Stefanus Grand Cru next time you’re invited to dinner?