Here's What People Get Wrong About American Craft Beer, According To Dogfish Head Brewer Sam Calagione - Exclusive

"It was only 30 years ago that American beer was considered the laughing stock of the global beer community," Dogfish Head Brewery founder Sam Calagione explained to Mashed during an exclusive interview. Most beer brewed in the United States in the decades following the end of Prohibition was mass-produced pale golden lager, according to The Conversation, with little to distinguish beer made from one brewery to the next. Budweiser, Coors, Pabst, and Miller held sway for most of the 20th century (via USA Today).

Today, the so-called Craft Beer Renaissance has seen thousands of breweries open all around America, per Vinepair, and the country has emerged as a global luminary in the beer scene. "The craft brewers not only brought it back in America," Calagione said, "but really just inspired cultures around the world to rethink what commercial beer could be."

From original American beer styles like American cream ale or steam beer to international styles further developed and refined here, like the IPA, American brewers have emerged as inventive, daring, and accomplished artisans (via Craft Beer). That said, there is still much that the average beer drinker gets wrong about craft beer. Fortunately, Sam Calagione has a few thoughts about what new craft drinkers are missing.

Finding the right beer style for your palate

Today, American beer drinkers are faced with a unique issue. Rather than having too little choice, as they did a few decades back, today there are so many different beer styles and varieties, it can be hard to find beers you truly enjoy. 

Sam Calagione shared some tips to help you find your favorite craft beer. "I would say there are styles that are more graceful, [that allow] baby steps out onto what I would call the flavor bridge. If you're going to take a step away from light lager terra firma, I think the most approachable craft beer style to take that first step with are lower ABV IPAs, like [Dogfish Head] Slightly Mighty, like your 60-Minute IPA, or other craft beers. Session IPAs. Or wheat beers. Be it the German Hefeweizen style, the Belgian style white beers that have some nice fruitiness to them."

Calagione noted that last year, Dogfish Head's best-selling sour beer was Sea Quench Ale. "I think a big reason it was so successful is that it's not super hoppy, and it's not super strong. I think that's the misconception about craft beer in general, for non-craft beer aficionados, is that it is all bitter and strong," Calagione explained. "Well, Sea Quench Ale has less hops than Miller Lite and it has sea salt and limes, so it goes to a margarita drinker. Plus, there is a nice bright acidity to it that would appeal to a minerally Pinot Gris drinker as well. So, there are styles [that] really lend themselves to bringing new drinkers into the fold to try craft beer."

Craft beer is still a small player in the American beer scene

Contrary to common misconceptions and growing popularity, craft breweries still make up only a small portion of the U.S. brewing scene.

"As ubiquitous as American craft brewers may seem today, because today there are over 8,000 brewers in America, and the average American now lives within nine miles of a local brewery," Calagione said, "but the concept of market share, collectively all American craft brewers together represent less than 14% of market share in America. So, we are still up against these global juggernauts that mostly focus on light lager beer."

But all in all, Sam Calagione is optimistic, saying: "There's never been a better time to be a beer maker or a beer drinker in America than there is right now."

Visit the Dogfish Head website for a complete rundown of their beers and news about upcoming flavors.