From the Detroit Free Press:
Oscar Wong has been a beer man since the day he and a buddy caught the lusty aroma of a homemade brew from a janitor's Pepsi bottle back at his alma mater, Notre Dame University.
"We said, 'That ain't Pepsi,' " says Wong, 71, who emigrated to the U.S. from China in 1959. That day a half-century ago, Wong started making his own beer, and a lifelong passion of making a product he says "brings smiles to people's faces" poured forth.
Wong's Highland Brewing is now in its 18th year in Asheville, N.C., one of many hot spots of the brewing of "craft" beer, the specialty suds heavy on flavor, experimentation and local identity. Ten other breweries have opened in Asheville since 1994. Nationally, from Sam Adams, which makes 2 million barrels a year, to Wong's 29,000, the industry is growing robustly.
Even as U.S. beer consumption overall is flat, the craft brew market is booming, with double-digit sales growth last year. The Brewers Association says that since 2004, craft brews have doubled their market share to nearly 6%, and that 250 breweries opened last year. The 1,940 operating in 2011 were the most since the 1880s, the industry group says.
Big and small brewers alike are capitalizing on a confluence of trends in palates, cooking, economics, demographics, even politics.
The buy-local movement, coupled with a political push against big corporations, skews toward local brewers. Palates have evolved to expect choices and local flavors in cheese, coffee, bread. Why not beer?
Chefs are pushing wine and beer pairings with food and cooking more with beer. Beer industry analysts say a new generation of beer drinkers in their 20s and 30s were raised as children of choice and are less likely than their parents or grandparents to pick a Bud or Miller Lite for life. More young women are drinking beer as part of the celebrity chef, fun-dining phenomenon that focuses on social experience as much as sustenance, with great interest in the stories of the food and beverage and the people who put them together.
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