We’re in the middle of a major shift in the beer industry, where it’s not just about the beer in your glass, but the glass around your beer. The experience with your beer has come into the equation, and in order to harness the full potential of the product, breweries have started offering beer in smaller quantities. It’s a Half Pint Renaissance if you wish.
Take a walk with me back five or so years and see what the craft beer landscape looked like. The major explosion of styles and breweries had yet to burst forth from the coffers, and some breweries (I won’t name names) seemed content to rest on their laurels and keep producing the same, easily replicated good beer. A pint of this and a pitcher of that. Growlers were coming into their own, being the easily reusable option for indulging in brewed beverages. Even the beer nerds were fewer and farther between, not to discount those who were there, but local places like Brewer’s Republic or The Wild Goose were nothing more than a glimmer in someone’s eye. The shaker pint was king, with belgian glasses only being brought out for Delirium Tremens or Duvel. Flash forward to today, and its the norm to see breweries and craft beer bars serving up beer in different options based on style, preference, or availability. So what changed?
Take a look at some of the portfolios from the more prominent craft breweries five to eight years ago. The craft beer industry was just beginning to hit its stride, but the consumer base hadn’t exploded just yet. Towns like Durango and Fort Collins were early adopters, filling their tap lines with locally brewed suds, though in major cities the craze hadn’t quite taken hold. This is the time where some brewers may have taken advantage of early GABF competition wins and not felt the need to strive for the next big thing because the demand wasn’t there. Beers that come to mind that were amazing back then but nowadays fall flat when compared to some of the more complex brewing styles and ingredients are things like New Belgium’s Fat Tire, Bristol’s Laughing Lab, and even Ska Brewing’s Pinstripe. Luckily each of those companies has embraced the growing style movement and continually churn out incredible, forward thinking beers to complement their backbone brews. Beers like La Folie, Venetucci Pumpkin Ale and Ska’s Seasonal Stout series have built their own fan base and pushed each brewery to new heights. (On the other side of the coin, each of those beers I hold very near and dear to my heart, attributing them to different times in my life. Just like with some music, when I crack open a Fat Tire, I am whisked, if only for a second, back to our neighborhood 4th of July gatherings where we’d sneak a bottle from the coolers in an act of pure teenage rebellion. I can’t remember how I felt about the beer back then, but it’s that relationship with the beer that keeps me coming back.)
I’ve sidetracked on a tangent, but let’s get back to the point. Breweries are creating more and more amazing beers in tons of styles, both classic and completely new. It has become a service to the consumer that brewpubs and craft bars offer beer in smaller serving sizes. As someone who likes almost any kind of beer, and will try anything at least once, I get sideways glances from servers who know my preference when I order a full pint these days. I prefer to be able to spread out my tasting to four or five styles, while not having to close the place down, and I feel like the craft consumer does as well. Too often we are sucked into the “nutrition standards” that dictate that a serving of beer or wine is 12 ounces. That’s not the case anymore. With tons more variations on the standard styles, people who don’t like IPA’s are finding ones they enjoy, wine drinkers are exploring the landscape of lambics and sours, and lots of your macro drinkers are experimenting with craft beer. This Half Pint Renaissance is only helping to strengthen the fan base for craft beer.
So what does this mean for you, the seasoned craft beer drinker? Where in the past you may have stuck with one style and had one or two pints in a night, you can drink a more well rounded assortment each and everytime you go out. No one should ever complain about more beer.
In the next part of this series we will investigate the shift from shaker pints to custom glassware for each style.