Bud Light's "Drinkability" ad campaign essentially means the stuff can be stomached; it also means Anheuser-Busch, like other large beer conglomerates, is scared.
Of the 210 million barrels of beer sold in the US last year, 8.5 million barrels were of domestic craft beer, a category the Brewers Association, America's craft brewers' trade association, describes as "small, independent, and traditional."
Although that's only approximately 4 percent of the market, craft beer sales are expanding and currently have the highest growth among US brewing segments, which include large and discount brews.
In addition to producing beer with higher standards than mere "drinkability," these breweries are growing, and New Mexico's 16 craft breweries are no exception.
Albuquerque's Marble Brewery recently opened a second location, here in Santa Fe, called the Tap Room. There, Marble beer can be had to go or on tap (pints $4.50, half-gallon growler refills $7) while overlooking the Plaza.
"Our brewery has been very successful, so it seemed natural to expand into Santa Fe to have a place where people can sample our beer," Marble Brewery President Jeff Jinnett says.
Santa Fe's Second Street Brewery also is expanding and hopes to have its second location, this one in Railyard at the north end of the Santa Fe Farmers Market building, open Oct. 1.
Rod Tweet, president and brewmaster at Second Street Brewery, attributes his brewery's growth to "people wanting something different than mass produced." Small breweries, such as his, fit the bill. "Small producers often make something that's a lot more interesting," he says.
Thus, beer is going the way of wine, coffee and bread: artisan.
Paul Gatza, director of the national Brewers Association, says this trend reflects a change in what consumers want. "They're interested in the variety of flavors that are out there now; they're interested in the different seasonal releases that come out."
They're also interested in buying local.
According to Jinnett, "If value and quality are there, people would prefer to have their food and drink produced locally." He notes that local beer is typically brewed the same week it's drank, whereas beer from large brewing companies can be months old by the time it ends up on the table.
Drinking local beer is not a foreign mind-set, just a forgotten one.
At the turn of the 20th century, much of America's beer was made in the thousands of small breweries that dotted the country. But due to a few exacerbating factors—Prohibition, the Great Depression, World War II—domestic beer production was mostly consolidated into the hands of a few corporations, those that could produce more for less.
In fact, despite the present-day existence of 1,501 craft breweries, the great majority of US beer is still produced by just 20 large breweries and, to a lesser extent, 24 other non-craft breweries. These breweries make beer with inexpensive adjuncts like rice and corn to lighten the color, flavor and body of the beer while still providing fermentable sugars to create alcohol—think flavorless American lager. But the direction has changed.
According to Tweet, "100 years ago, it was not unusual for pretty much every small town to have its own brewery, so we're sort of swinging back to that."
The growth of craft breweries on a local level makes it is easy to notice the pendulum swing.
And if you ever do need to get a lot of booze down quickly, growlers of craft beer are more than drinkable. They're also a lot more palatable than a $50 million ad campaign.
Marble Brewery Tap Room and Coffee Bar
11 am-10:30 pm Sunday to Thursday
11 am-11:30 pm Friday and Saturday
60 E. San Francisco St., in Santa Fe Arcade