Big stuff from small breweries

More specialized facilities pop up to handle the changing tastes of the beer-drinking consumer.

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Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2013 12:00 am | Updated: 9:26 am, Sun Aug 11, 2013.

As beer drinkers' tastes expand, smaller breweries are popping up to meet the demand.

According to the National Brewers Association, there are more than five times as many U.S. breweries as there were in 1990, and 98 percent are craft breweries, which are small, specialized breweries like those in Potosi, Wis., and Galena, Ill.

Brewers attribute the proliferation of craft breweries to beer drinkers expanding their taste in beer.

More beer drinkers are seeking more robust-flavored beers, straying from mass-produced light beers.

"Everyone is starting to get a palette for quality as opposed to quantity of beer. That's helping the craft brew renaissance," said Steve Buszka, brewmaster at Potosi Brewing Co. "They're going from the straw-colored, fizzy lagers to full-flavored ales."

Potosi Brewing opened in 2008 and Galena Brewing Co. in 2010, both amid a decades-long wave of craft brewery openings nationwide.

A quarter-century after the explosion started, the trend shows no signs of slowing: the craft brewing industry has grown roughly 30 percent in the past two years, according to the brewers association.

"There's more than just your light beers. It gets (people) interested in trying more things. Then they'll come to a place like Galena Brewing Company," said Jon Wagner, brewmaster at Galena Brewing. "It's a lot about growth for people themselves in what they want to taste."

Brewers said the craft beer movement is part of a larger practice of consumers buying more local and organic -- farmer's markets, for example.

"The localization of the beer movement is not necessarily unique to beer. There is a cultural shift going on with Americans in what they purchase and what they consume," said Julia Herz, craft beer program director for the National Brewers Association. "Local is in. Local is big. And what feels good tastes even better."

Most craft breweries are small; Herz said more than 80 percent produce fewer than 15,000 barrels of beer annually.

The breweries in Potosi and Galena fit that description: Potosi will produce roughly 6,500 barrels this year, Buszka said, and Galena produces roughly 800 barrels per year.

Where the two area breweries differ is in distribution: Potosi sells the vast majority of its beer off-site, while Galena's is a roughly 50-50 split.

Craft breweries are popular in Iowa and Wisconsin; both states are among the top 15 in the nation per capita for craft breweries.

Wisconsin is No. 10 with 83 craft breweries (68,518 residents per brewery), and Iowa is No. 14 with 33 (92,314).

Despite the craft brewing industry's remarkable growth, craft beers account for just a tenth of all beer sales nationwide. So there is room for growth.

Jay Jubeck believes as much. The Dubuque man recently announced his plans to open Jubeck New World Brewing Co., which will be a nanobrewery (a small brewery that produces a very small amount of beer relative to larger breweries).

"Everyone says we're going to hit a ceiling and we're going to have too many breweries. I have yet to see it," Wagner said.

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