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Invasion of the Tap Snatchers

on Friday, 01 July 2011. Posted in Magazine, From The Tap

Invasion of the Tap Snatchers
by Timmons Pettigrew

Whether you know it or like it, craft beer is invading your personal space. It’s on tap at your favorite watering hole. It’s in a bottle at your favorite restaurant. It’s also at your grocery store, in your friend’s refrigerator, and its sights are pointed squarely at your pie hole.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why and how craft beer has come so far. The slog out of obscurity has been long and hard since the first American craft breweries, then more commonly “microbreweries,” cranked up in California in the late 70’s. Those pint-sized pioneers started a trend that waxed and waned, but these days it’s all wax. The U.S Brewers’ Association reported over 1,750 breweriesoperated in our borders in 2010, and craft beer sales continue to grow each year.

South Carolina lagged the cultural trend (shocker), but once the state’s limit on alcohol content in beer tripled in 2007 things started really moving. The novelty of “high gravity” beer has since passed, but the larger craft segment is bursting at the seams. The Lowcountry alone has a dedicated retail beer Mecca in The Charleston Beer Exchange, a killer beer festival in Brewvival, breweries of varying sizes and ages in Palmetto, COAST, and Westbrook, and more coming soon like Holy City. Beer-centric bars are numerous, with more popping up all the time. All signs point to the growth continuing.

A few things set craft beer apart from the fizzy yellow pack. It’s designed to be delicious, for one. At its best it should be a revelation, at its worst it should make you angry, but whatever your reaction, you should wonder why you feel that way. It’s not designed to be chugged, shotgunned, or bonged into your gullet, but if you’re paying attention to the party in your mouth you shouldn’t want to do those things.

If I’m making craft beer sound like wine, I apologize. Both are often-tasty alcoholic liquids, but that’s about it. The range of drinking experiences under the beer umbrella is much wider. Alcohol content could range from 3% to 15%, with lower and higher extremes. The color could be pale yellow to light- sucking black, with any level of clarity or cloudiness. The flavor profiles are so wildly varied that there’s something for every interested palate. If you can’t find something you like amongst sweet, sour, bitter, roasted, acidic, creamy, biscuit-like, fruity, chocolaty, or the zillions of other taste descriptors, then stick to mashed potatoes.

The styles run the gamut, but the price tags are relatively stable. Unlike wine, the best (sometimes just the most expensive) beers on Earth top out around $40 a bottle. Most best-in-class examples are only a fraction of that. This means one can have a full bore geek-out without a trust fund or second mortgage. Huzzah!

That brings me to the community, which might be the best part. Beer is the ultimate social beverage. It has brought people together in merriment for centuries, but craft beer tends to bring a certain brand of people together. If you appreciate life’s little pleasures and have an open mind, you’ll fit right in. Sure, there are some secret code words and inside- jokes as with any passionate group, but we need new recruits! We want to turn you on to something new. We want more people drinking craft beer, because when that happens, we all win.

So next time you’re out and about, order something new and different. Something that sounds off-the-wall. If you love it, you may find yourself squinting over bottled-on-dates and beer forums in no time. If you hate it, at least you have a beer.

Timmons Pettigrew, TheDigitel Charleston. Follow him on Twitter via @CHSBeer.

Photo by Chris Rynearson

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