Craft beer: Rising global demand for American breweries' daring products (column)

American craft beer is a thing unto itself and has something of a blue jeans aura abroad.

That is — there is beer and then there is American craft beer. Certainly, the popularity has to do with the taste of the beers, but it also is more than that. There is a sense of innovation for its own sake that comes along with the idea of American craft brewing that has a particular appeal.

It’s cool because it’s good, but also, it is cool because it is cool.

The result of this demand is that American craft beer is a genuine international phenomenon. In the last few years, Stone Brewing Company was able to open a successful American craft brewery in Berlin, Germany, and some of the larger European beer distributors have bought stakes in American craft breweries to ensure open and constant supply lines.

Last year, Salisbury's Evolution Craft Brewing Co. was able to do an export deal in Japan, and the Chinese desire for American craft beer has exploded to the point that at least one brewery, Pike’s Peak out of Colorado, has developed an entire separate brand just to meet Chinese demand.

With the exception of a propensity to include higher-alcohol beers, there isn’t an overwhelming reason why American craft beer should have had such a deep and abiding effect on global and local culture at once.

After all, what we’ve come to think of as “craft beer” just is a small twist on one of the oldest, constantly-produced products in human history. In fact, a lot of the really popular beer styles, like IPAs, have pretty much been in constant production for hundreds of years, but it took the American craft beer revolution to remake beer as a cultural force.

There are plenty of historical and economic factors that were and are at play that allowed American craft beer to flourish at home in the last decade or so. But what made it catch fire abroad was just the fact of the willingness to innovate just a little bit.