If you've been to any well respected bar or liquor shop in the past few years, you've probably been reading some quirky names and seeing some even quirkier artwork all belonging to a family of brews now famously called craft beer. Actually, scratch that. These days the bar in question doesn't even have to be all that great — craft beer is everywhere, and it's about damn time. For decades, beer was just … beer. Maybe there was a choice between dark beer and light beer, or domestic and import, but you pretty much knew what to expect before you even looked at a drink list. Compared to a proper wine menu, beer choices in the U.S. were extremely sparse and frankly, unimpressive. Yes, that sounds like the sentiments of a beer snob, but today we actually have professional beer snobs! And that's kind of cool.
Remember when wine was the only drink people would give theatrical descriptions like earthy yet herbaceous, and restaurants sought candidates with wine degrees? Well today's craft beer options and flavors go beyond what wine is capable of, and the market demand for well curated beer collections has produced "beer sommelier" programs like The Cicerone. These highly trained dudes and dudettes are becoming just as valued as their wine steward counterparts by the restaurateurs and patrons of the fine dining world. Craft beverage directors are actually popping up in many corners of the industry; putting together diverse menus, offering customers advice and extremely detailed information on products, recommending gastronomically informed food pairings, and hosting private craft beer dinners and classes.
Think about: wine is simply grape juice plus yeast, and all these different styles and flavors and aromas and elements are possible — that will always be impressive. But the rules are different for beer. Choose any grain you want, any flavor or amount of hops you like, dozens of aromatic yeast strains, plus any conceivable adjunct ingredients like fruits, coffee beans, chocolate, maple syrup, and even hot peppers. The avenues for experimentation and variety are limited only by the imaginations of the creative chemists brewing modern craft beer.