Of the many trends and fads that sweep America, some have more substance than others. The mid-90s, along with Roseanne and pogs, saw the appearance of ‘micro-breweries’ and ‘brewpubs’ in large numbers upon the American scene. The American beer scene of the 1970s and 80s had become highly homogenized; beginning with Prohibition, the American beer industry had become centralized into the hands of a tiny number of corporations—led by Anheuser-Busch—that standardized beer around mild, pale lagers.
The reaction against national beer uniformity around what many considered to be a relatively insipid standard, was that many beer affecionados turned instead to homebrewing in the European ‘cask beer’ style. Slowly, some of the more successful homebrewers began opening brewpubs (a small brewery with its own pub attached) and microbreweries (small scale breweries with local distrobution).
Able and willing to focus upon flavor and variety, these small operations have risen to 3.04% of the national market. This seems small, and it is, but it must be noted that sales of craf beers in the USA have risen every year for 36 years and they currently produce 6.25 million barrels of beer a year. Craft beer is the fastest growing segment of the American alcohol industry.
The growth of the craft beer industry has paralleled the rise of similar movements in organic food, local food, artisan cheese and Slow Food—they rise out of a shared concern for a growing homogenization of, and decline of quality in, the American diet. Unfortunately, this shared affinity has not been fully recognized by either side—most organic beers are from overseas (Germany and England from my experience), American craft brewers pride themselves on traveling overseas to buy hops (especially from Central Europe) and, for instance, my co-op does not carry organic alcohol. This is especially painful for us here in NY, since at one time (back in the halycon days before Prohibition), we were the source of the finest hops in the United States. Hops barns in the Hudson Valley and the Leatherstocking region moulder into oblivion as our local brewpubs fly to Germany.
Recently, though, there has been a glimmering of change. For the first time in 50 years, a local brewery has created a beer entirely using NYS hops: the Ithaca Beer Company’s Double Pale Ale. On a similar note, the national Brewer’s Association has begun an alliance with Slow Food to promote craft beer not only as a form of artisan food but as a politically charged alternative to food homogenization. We can perhaps begin to see a future where small local breweries using local grain and hops create a regional drinking culture where the land’s bounty can be tasted.
In the meantime, for those of you who are now hankering to try a local beer, I have set up:
A York Stater’s list of Upstate microbreweries and brewpubs
Whether you live in Corning or Plattsburgh, there is probably a local taste right in your neighborhood. For instance, Syracuse, where I live today, has two excellent choices: the Middle Ages Brewing Company and the Syracuse Suds Factory (I’m partial to The Beast at Middle Ages and the Irish Red at Syracuse Suds). You might also want to check out this article on Ommegang brewery in Cooperstown and the future of NYS beer tourism and http://www.pubcrawler.com/ for a national listing of such establishments.
 On a bizarre side-note, the Army Airforce Exchange Service has begun issuing pogs as a form of currency in Iraq and Afghanistan stating that shipping metal currency abroad for the soldier’s use has become prohibitively expensive. Here’s a site dedicated to them: http://www.aafes-pogs.com/
 Statistics from http://www.beertown.org/craftbrewing/statistics.html
 Though, this may be for various legal complications of which I am ignorant.