In light of the 18th Annual Great Alaska Craft Beer and Homebrew Festival, which took place in Haines, Alaska, this past weekend, we thought that we would dedicate this article to defining what exactly a makes a craft beer unique.

At its most basic definition, craft beer is an American term defining a style of brewing that closely adheres to traditional brewing techniques, and traditional ingredients like malted barley and wheat. Sometimes, novel and non-traditional ingredients are used to create a beer with unique and distinct characteristics.

The result is a product brewed to be flavourful and interesting, which usually results in (but is not intended to be) a beer that doesn’t generally appeal to the masses.

One of the most common misconceptions about craft beer is that the term is interchangeable with micro-brewed beer. A microbrewery is quite simply a brewery that produces a limited amount of beer. The goal of a craft brewer is to make a good beer with zero cost cutting, and for many microbreweries, this just isn’t possible 100 percent of the time.

Microbreweries can certainly (and primarily do) brew craft beers; however, they can also brew a crowd-pleaser like a light American lager to increase their presence in the market place, cater to a particular demographic, and to make a bit of extra cash. Oftentimes, this profit will be put toward the creation of craft beers, which are not readily known as money makers.

While by definition craft beer is limited to traditional grains, many would argue that the use of adjunct grains play an important role in creating the niche flavours that distinguish craft beer. For example, craft ESBs are commonly brewed with an addition of flaked corn to stop it from becoming too heavy or too sweet.

So technically, those ESBs would be breaking the rules.

Nevertheless, it is becoming more accepted that the addition of alternate grains—and sometimes quirky ingredients— an be used to enhance a craft beer’s aesthetic character (read: taste).

Yukon Brewing Company’s Espresso Stout and Philip’s Chocolate Porter both rock out some non-traditional additions in the name of carefully chosen pairings and ingenuity, and both would certainly be considered craft ales. Thankfully, they’re both available locally.

According to the Brewers Association —the organization that both promotes and protects craft brewers in North America—a craft brewer must comply with some pretty strict limitations: less than two million barrels produced annually (this means small) and 75 percent of the company must be owned by a/the craft brewery (this means independent).

These are some pretty nitpicky restraints, and they can exclude certain beers from wearing the craft badge of honour.

Because of this, many beer enthusiasts believe that the true definition of a craft beer is in its more emotional definition: beer that bends limits and experiments with the full intention of creating an immensely flavourful and immaculate end product; beer that is totally uncompromising with its use of the finest ingredients; beer that is produced for the sole purpose of enjoying beer.

If the great brews on offer at last weekend’s festival blew your mind or if you just want to know more about this popular annual event, visitwww.seakfair.org/beerfestival.php for more info. For dates and locations of beer festivals happening in Canada, visit www.canadianbeernews.com/beer-festivals.

Please enjoy this article responsibly.