From canned IPAs stocked in popular restaurants to guest beers appearing across British pubs, there’s no denying the continuing popularity of craft beer. But what is craft beer, exactly, and how do you differentiate between craft beer and regular beer?
Craft beer is produced in small batches by independent microbreweries, whereas commercial beers are mass-produced by large-scale breweries. The smaller, independent microbreweries tend to focus on the traditional brewing methods. They experiment with specific ingredients and create innovative recipes that produce weird and wonderful beers.
In this guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about craft beer, including its origins and brewing process, and highlight some of the tastiest types of craft beer available for you to explore.
The Origins of Craft Beer
The art of handcrafted brewing can be traced back thousands of years to ancient civilisations in Mesopotamia and Egypt, but the term “craft beer” as we know it today wasn’t used until fairly recently.
It emerged during the microbrewing movement of the 1970s when commercial lagers overwhelmingly dominated pub taps. Beer enthusiasts craved something beyond a typical pint, and thus, there was a demand for more diverse and exciting beers.
Using artisanal techniques and infusing their recipes with contemporary twists, craft brewers rekindled interest in traditional beer styles and complex flavours ranging from hoppy IPAs bursting with floral aromas to rich imperial stouts, bitters, porters, and more.
What’s the Difference Between Craft Beer and Regular Beer?
Despite the popularity of craft beer, there’s no universally agreed definition for what it is. Instead, there is a set of rules about its brewing process: craft beer is a beer that’s produced in small quantities by independent breweries using traditional brewing methods.
The following distinguishing features set craft beers apart from large-scale commercial beers.
Craft brewers pay careful attention to sourcing the best ingredients possible so that they can create unparalleled flavour profiles.
From locally sourced hops or specialty hops imported from specific regions, showcasing a particular terroir, to carefully selected malted barley.
When it comes to technique, independent brewers have the freedom to experiment with various methods, like small-scale mashing systems, open fermentation, or dry-hopping. They can create a wide range of weird and wonderful flavours and aromas by altering and experimenting with fermentation temperatures, yeast strains, and ingredients.
Large-scale breweries prioritise efficiency, consistency, and mass production. They rely heavily on automated equipment. These beers are also created to appeal to a broader audience, and as such, they usually have a simpler hop profile.
There’s a world of variety when it comes to craft beer. Techniques like barrel ageing, dry hopping, the blending of various styles, and the introduction of fruit and spices allows for more diversity.
Meanwhile, commercial large-scale breweries emphasise uniformity – after all, if you go out to buy your favourite branded beer, you’d want it to taste the same way every time. Still, these large-scale breweries sometimes offer variations, including fruit-infused beers, though these options are typically limited.
Different Styles and Varieties of Craft Beer
Due to the experimental nature of craft brewing, there will always be new and innovative beer styles and varieties to choose from.
IPA (India Pale Ale)
IPA-style beer has become synonymous with the craft beer movement. These hop-forward ales range from gold to amber in colour and exhibit strong floral aromas and high bitterness. The flavours vary significantly depending on the hops used, and fruit is often added to create exotic flavours.
Over at Fonthill Brewing Co., we brew several IPAs, including Palimpsest (a British-style IPA), Flame On! (mango-infused fruited IPA), Bearer of Bad Tidings (Black IPA), and Pedal Steel (a tropical session IPA).
Pale Ale and Golden Ale
Golden ales and pale ales are also popular styles among microbrewers. Pale ales are hop-forward beers characterised by their pale colour and slight bitterness. American Pale Ale (APA) showcases floral and citrusy American hops, whereas English Pale Ale emphasises malt sweetness.
Creedence is our APA, made using Crystal and Caragold malts for a full-bodied flavour profile. Here’s to the Badgers is a pale ale made using Cascade and Kohatu hops, dry-hopped with Citra for a crisp and pleasant finish.
Palimpsest, our golden ale, is made from five different hops. It exhibits a complex flavour with balanced bitterness.
This traditional English beer style has a medium to full body, beautiful amber to copper colour, and balanced hop bitterness. Its aroma is malty, with notes of toasted bread, biscuit, and maybe even caramel. Best bitters are flavourful but refreshing.
Fonthill Brewing Co.’s Best Bitter is made using classic Kent hops and a touch of aromatic malt, giving it a perfect biscuity finish.
Porters are dark ales that exhibit notes of chocolate or caramel along with a balance of maltiness and hop bitterness. Where’s Me Jumper is our porter – it has a very simple hopping schedule that allows the rich chocolate and crystal malts to shine through.
Navigating the Craft Beer Scene
You can find canned and bottled craft beer in most supermarkets across the UK. Craft beer cafes, pubs, and bars often host guest beers from local breweries, while beer festivals offer an excellent opportunity for testing a huge variety of craft beers.
Here at the George pub in Tunbridge Wells, craft beer is at the heart of what we do. You can try our beers in the Fonthill brewery taproom or in the pub, where we also stock guest craft beers from both local and faraway breweries as well as well-known global brands.
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