Craft Brewers Place Emphasis On Quality

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Updated: Saturday, September 13 2014, 06:23 PM EDT RICHMOND, Va. (AP)
-- Scoff if you must at mass domestic beers, but lessons learned from
the makers of Budweiser and Miller Lite are helping to make sure your
craft beer tastes the same from pint to pint. Far from the small and
scrappy crew of home brewers that started the movement, craft brewers
increasingly are turning to employees of much larger shops like
Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors to tap their experience in creating
beer with a consistent flavor and quality time after time on a large
scale. While it's hard to say exactly how many people have left the
big boys to join the craft beer movement, it is clear breweries
seeking to grow are placing a greater value on quality assurance as
the industry gains market share. Sales of craft beer rose about 17
percent last year despite a nearly 2 percent drop in overall beer
sales, according to the Brewers Association, a trade group for the
majority of the nation's more than 3,000 breweries. Craft beer
drinkers have simply come to expect that every time they crack a can
or bottle it will taste the same as the last. If that doesn't happen,
breweries risk losing customers, says Julia Herz, the craft beer
program director at the Colorado-based Brewers Association. Less than
a year ago, Hardywood Park Craft Brewery in Richmond brought in a
veteran from Anheuser-Busch to head its quality assurance program, a
move that co-founder Patrick Murtaugh said serves as an "insurance
policy" for a craft brewer to make sure things won't go wrong. And if
they do? You've got someone with experience from a bigger brewery to
know what to do to fix it. "One of the major things that separate home
brewers from professional brewers is being able to not only brew a
great beer, but the exact same beer over and over again," Murtaugh
said, who added that it's wrong to think that products such as Bud
Light are lousy. "It's not. It's exactly what they intended to brew
and to be able to brew it on that scale over and over and over again
is an incredible feat." Take it from Dan Westmoreland, the brewmaster
at Anheuser-Busch's Williamsburg, Virginia, brewery. The facility —
one of 12 in the U.S. — has about 500 full-time employees and about
150 weekend employees that produce roughly 2.5 billion 12-ounce beers
a year. Its production in one week is about the amount being produced
by a larger craft brewery in a full year. "When you're making a beer
that's this light, you've got to be on your game because it won't be
consistent very easily," Westmoreland said. "You can't hide anything."
Kate Lee, who joined Hardywood after 12 years in various positions
across the country with Anheuser-Busch, knows that firsthand. The
biggest difference, she said, is the scope and method of making beer.
Much of the process at Anheuser-Busch is monitored from a master
control room with a bank of computer screens. At craft breweries, the
more hands-on process makes consistency a challenge. During a forum on
the subject at a recent Craft Brewers Conference, industry leaders
stressed to roughly 9,000 attendees that with so many breweries
opening, a lack of consistency may mean a beer drinker won't try new
brands and go only with ones they know and trust, or simply decide it
isn't worth their paycheck. And Tim Hawn, who became brewmaster at
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery in Milton, Delaware, in 2011 after working
at MillerCoors agrees. "People will put up with a little bit of
variability, but it's not like it used to be," he said. "Obviously
folks are willing to pay for the luxury of craft ... and for that
luxury they expect to have that same experience every time they enjoy
a beer." Follow us on Twitter @Local12 and LIKE us on Facebook for

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