THIS IS SHAPING UP TO BE QUITE THE WEEK FOR BEER. Watching this Sunday night’s Super Bowl — and especially the ads — it will be easy to be reminded of the hold giant brands like Bud, Miller, and Coors have on our collective consciousness. At the other end of the sudsy spectrum, later in the week hundreds of craft beer drinkers will gather at the South End Cyclorama for BeerAdvocate’s Extreme Beer Fest. Hosted by the popular beer-rating website (for which I write a column), the event will feature the likes of The Funky Buddha’s Last Snow, a coffee porter made with coconut, white chocolate, and caramel. Take it from me, this will not be a Miller Time crowd.
Craft beer geeks are an increasingly vocal group these days, and perhaps that’s because of their status as underdogs. The entire craft beer industry — including local “giants” Samuel Adams and Harpoon — makes up only about 9 percent of the US beer market. No wonder fans of the brews feel so marginalized. Forums like the BeerAdvocate site, beer bars, and stores such as Craft Beer Cellar in Belmont offer a sense of community for a niche group, but the devotion can be taken too far. In being vocal about not being among The 91 Percent — in refusing to drink anything at the party other than the obscure six-packs they bring — beer geeks risk being labeled snobs.
It doesn’t help that the craft beer industry itself seems to revel in its exclusivity. In December, the 1,600-member Brewers Association released a statement mandating that any brewer that was more than 25 percent owned by an entity not itself a craft brewer could not be defined as “craft.” That includes, for instance, Goose Island, an innovative Chicago brewery acquired by Anheuser-Busch in 2011. Goose Island still makes very good beer, but that won’t matter to some.
The definition of “craft” will come into play in a big way tonight when Anheuser-Busch officially debuts an ad for Black Crown, a new lager with “more body, color, and a touch more hop character” than its flagship Bud lager. The beer is certainly not craft by definition, but it could be the first beer of its kind the general public will ever try. And that’s why some in the craft beer industry will loathe it: For years, high-quality beer, much of it brewed closer to home, has been getting passed over on store shelves.
I’ll give Black Crown a shot, though I doubt it will replace any of my favorites (such as The Alchemist’s Heady Topper and Allagash Brewing Co.’s Allagash White). The trick is to try it before passing judgment. In seven months of writing the Globe’s craft beer column, 99 Bottles, I’ve tried to acquaint readers with niche beer without thumbing my nose at the mass-market stuff. You’re well aware that Bud is out there, I figure, and insulting your taste for it isn’t going to get us anywhere.
As I see it, my job is to point out options. There are about 2,300 craft breweries in the United States. Forty-four of them are in Massachusetts, with another 20 in the works. That’s a lot of good beer, which is why it frustrates me when friends who agonize over the taste and provenance of their food at a restaurant reflexively order a Coors Light.
So, the next time you’re at a restaurant or package store, do some research and ask questions about a beer you haven’t tried. Give something new a shot. The last thing the world needs is another beer snob.