What makes a beer a craft beer? All your beer questions answered

We spoke to Mike Siegel, Goose Island Brewery Innovations Manager, to find out

What is so 'craft' about craft beer? All your beer questions answered

What is craft beer?

In the U.S., where the term originated many years ago, it was meant to categorise the way beer was being made by hand by breweries (hand crafted), that were considerably smaller than the large industrialised breweries that dominated beer production for many decades prior.

The first wave of breweries were focused on ale instead of lagers, as they were easier to make and more differentiated in flavour. It’s slightly harder to define now, as the definition has evolved over the years, but quite simply, beer that shows a greater expression of flavour and creativity than mass produced lagers is likely what most craft beer drinkers would agree on.

I don’t know anything about craft beer! Where do I start?

Like anything in life, getting advice from someone knowledgeable is a great start. If you don’t have a friend who can help, find a bar with a good reputation for serving craft beer, and ask for small tastings. Any good establishment should want to help you find a beer that suits you tastes.

So why do people always get ‘a try’ of beer before buying? Are they just trying to get freebies?

Craft beer offers an incredibly wide range of aromas, flavors, alcohol ranges, bitterness levels, acidity, and sweetness. Most people don’t instantly like everything, so getting to know your own preferences by way of tastings if a good way to try before you buy - and pubs totally don't mind! They want to be selling you something you'll love, so always try a sample before buying.

What should I know about trying my beer?

Pay attention to the brewery and the style of beers that you taste. If you like something from a brewery, it’s likely you’ll like other offerings. Similarly, if you like the style of beer (pale ale/bitter, IPA, saison, mild, stout, etc) from one brewery, it’s likely you’ll like the same style from other breweries.

Note your preferences for sweetness, dryness, bitterness, aroma characteristics. Your tastes can and likely will evolve, and with an open mind you’ll enjoy tastes down the road that you didn’t earlier.

If I like lager and have never ever tried anything else, what sort of craft beers will I like?

Lager is light bodied and refreshing, but it’s not the only style that covers that. Golden ale (or blonde ale) will often deliver slightly fruiter, but often equally refreshing tastes. Belgian style wheat beer, Wit, and German style wheat beer, Hefeweizen, get fruitier, but are also very refreshing and not very challenging.

I really don’t like sour beer, but apparently it’s cool, what do I do?

Some sour beers are lighter in acidity, these are a good style to start with. Like anything else, you don’t want to start out with an aggressive version of a beer for your first try. Work your way into it, and always always ask.

How do I find out what sort of craft beers are for me?

Short of knowing experts personally, bars that specialise in selling a large range of craft beer are the best resource. If a place doesn’t have helpful staff, move on.

What’s the difference between an IPA, APA and all the other 'PAs?

These are ever evolving beer styles, with wide ranges based on who is creating the recipe and where they are brewed, and often there is some overlap. Generally speaking, IPAs are more bitter, more alcohol, with higher hop aroma. Pale ales tend to be more balanced and lower in those attributes.