By Michael Sears
President, Forest City Brewers
Greetings all, and welcome to the inaugural article of “Craft Beer Scene Around Rockford.”
The focus of this column will be on craft beer and its influence around the Rockford and Rock River Valley. More specifically, I will highlight some of the new beers coming into the area and the brewery that makes the beer, the local businesses that are serving them, and events featuring craft beer; in essence, anything related to craft beer. So, you may be asking, “What makes a beer a craft beer and why craft beer?”
According to the Brewers Association, the definition of an American craft brewery is small, independent and traditional. Some insight as to what these terms mean in this context is in order.
Small: An annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.
Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
Traditional: A brewer who has either an all-malt portfolio (the beer that represents the greatest volume among that brewer’s brands) or has at least 50 percent of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers that use adjuncts to enhance, rather than lighten, flavor.
Craft beer has been one of the fastest growing markets over the past few years. To reinforce this point, I’m sure you have noticed the number of choices in craft beers at your favorite stores or pubs has grown dramatically over the last few years. While the mega-breweries In-Bev (Budweiser) and SABMiller (Miller/Coors) have seen declines in sales over the past few years, the craft beer industry has consecutively posted double-digit growth and predicts more than 17 percent growth over the 2012-2016 time frame.
Although craft beer represented only 10 percent of total beer sales in 2013, it has captured the attention of the mega breweries to the point where they are now aggressively purchasing these smaller breweries, as in the case of In-Bev’s recent purchase of Goose Island Brewery.
The Rockford area has recently seen the opening of two new brew pubs — Pig Minds of Machesney Park in August 2012 and the tap room of Prairie Street Brewhouse on Madison Street just a few months ago. These join Carlyle Brewing Co. on East State (downtown), which has been brewing and pouring their beers for many years.
OK, a little background about me. I have been a home brewer for more than 15 years, which started when my next door neighbor introduced me to the hobby, and I have been addicted since. Over the time that I have been brewing my own beers, my palate has grown to enjoy most of the 80-plus styles of commercially brewed ales and lagers. Most of the population thinks Budweiser, Coors, Miller and Pabst are beer styles. Actually, they are the same style, with each exhibiting small differences. I hope future articles will help you experiment and appreciate the amazing nuances of craft beer.
Michael Sears is president of the Forest City Brewers. The Forest City Brewers is a homebrewing club dedicated to the art of finely-crafted beer. The club meets the first Wednesday of each month at Thunder Bay Grille on East State Sreet. For more about Forest City Brewers, go to http://forestcitybrewers.org. If you have comments or recommendations, please contact Mike at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Jan. 22-28, 2014, issue