Interview: The Craft Beer Trend

If you have a question about beer at Anton Paar, then Gebhard Sauseng is the man to ask. He has been in the company for 25 years and has long been involved in the development of measuring instruments for the beer sector. For years, he was a regular visitor at many dozens of breweries around the world. He knows beer brewing like the back of his hand. About one and a half years ago he began to brew his own craft beer. In this interview he talks about the end of the uniformity of taste, the beer revolution in 1976 and a market which is undergoing positive changes.

You are confronted with the term “craft beer” everywhere you go. In the media people are talking about the most important trend on the beer market for years. In the supermarket there are rows of eye-catching beer bottles. And who really knows what is going on? Nobody except industry insiders. What is craft beer?

Firstly: There is no standardized definition of the term “craft beer”. What is meant is beer which has been skillfully and honestly brewed as a craft. This beer does not have a comparable taste to industrially manufactured beer. It tastes more intense, with more layers. It tastes better. Just the fact that a wide range of different malt and hops are used means completely new beer aromas are created, for example hints of citrus fruits. In the unrivaled craft beer, Indian Pale Ale, these aromas are particularly pronounced.

Where did this trend originate?

There are two reasons for the current boom in craft beer: On the one hand, society is reacting to the uniformity of taste and industrially manufactured food. On the other hand, this trend is reaching Europe from the USA. People are noticing that home-made food, be that jellies, bread or beer, taste much better than what they can buy in the supermarket. They know what’s in it and have maybe even grown the ingredients themselves. Many people in cities have even begun to have gardens on their balconies. That shows that people have become more aware that they can produce their food themselves. This is essentially the same for brewing beer.

Gebhard Sauseng

Why did the trend for brewing craft beer begin in the US?

The craft beer revolution in the USA began in 1976: Young people protested against the tasteless and uniform beers of the states. They longed for a similar beer culture to the one in Europe. What hardly anyone knows is that craft beer is not a new trend but an old one. In countries such as Belgium, England, Germany and also Austria, there was already a pronounced beer culture in the Middle Ages. The difference is that at that time only local resources were used for brewing beer. The hops and barley used came from the local area, not from abroad. That is different today. Craft brewers buy the ingredients for their beer from all around the world. With the increase in industrial manufacturing, the European breweries also experienced what was happening in almost all other branches: only the output counted, the production structures were optimized, breweries merged and became even bigger. This smoothed the way to beer with a uniform taste. And this is what is beginning to get on people’s nerves. So the craft beer trend has fallen on fertile soil.

Does that mean that the USA has a more pronounced craft beer culture than Europe due to the revolution in 1976?

That is difficult to say. Europe has a much longer beer brewing tradition. Regarding the current craft beer trend, however, America is slightly ahead. In 1992 there were around 50 craft breweries in the States. In 2012 there were approximately 1800 and in 2014 around 2800. This enormous growth could also be on the horizon for Europe. Whereas craft beer in the US amounts to around ten percent of the whole beer market, it makes up less than two percent in Europe. However, the trend is growing considerably. It must be clear, though, that in America a “craft brewery” can produce six million hectoliters of beer per year. As a comparison: The Puntigamer Brewery (one of largest Austrian breweries) produces over one million hectoliters of beer per year. America works in different dimensions. A brewery which bottles six million hectoliters of beer per year would never be called a craft brewery in Europe. The high market share in the USA should therefore not be overvalued.

Gebhard Sauseng

For years at Anton Paar you were probably the most important contact person for breweries around the world when it came to measuring solutions for beer. Now the craft beer trend has also left its mark on Anton Paar. What has been the reaction to these developments?

Anton Paar began an initiative for craft brewers last year: Craft2Craft. This includes the DMA 35. This hand-held measuring instrument can be used to simply and reliably determine the extract content during the brewing process. DMA 35 is also frequently used by our customers to monitor the fermentation process. We also provide craft brewers with CboxQC™, which is a CO2 analyzer with optional oxygen measurement. Determining the CO2 content is a very important step for all brewers. This varies depending on the beer type. New this year is Alex 500. This small and handy measuring instrument combines alcohol and density measurement. Based on these two parameters it is possible to calculate many more values. Alex 500 is used during fermentation and also to measure already bottled beers.

The above-mentioned instruments are particularly interesting for many craft brewers due to their attractive price. Which corners had to be cut to achieve this?

Anton Paar never cuts corners when it comes to the quality of its instruments. The measuring instruments specially developed for the craft brewers are exactly designed to meet their requirements. That means: The measuring instruments of the Craft2Craft initiative, such as DMA 35, measure with slightly less accuracy than a DMA 4500 M but are guaranteed accurate enough for everything the craft brewer has to measure, for example the alcohol content for the tax office. Our beer measuring systems for large breweries consider all relevant physical parameters and ensure the highest possible output at a defined quality level. They aim for absolute standardization. Usually a craft brewer does not want this. The values given by the instruments in the Craft2Craft series are still so accurate that an identically produced beer will always taste the same if it was measured with our instruments. With the Craft2Craft instruments we manage a perfect balancing act between measuring accuracy, reliability and price. We hear this daily from our many more than satisfied customers.

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