Liquid assets: Creating a World-Class Craft Beer

 Xiang Yin
Xiang S. Yin, PhD
Technology Director
Cargill Malt

As many of the world's beer drinkers descend on Munich's Oktoberfest for Weissbier and Bavarian Gemütlichkeit, what better time to talk about beer? Specifically, let's talk craft beer, those unique, small-batch brews made by traditional, independent breweries.

Since the economic downturn in 2008, mainstream and total beer consumption has been declining. Although some indicators now seem to point to economic stabilization, mainstream beer drinking is on pace to slide another 3% this year.

But something's brewing that means exciting new opportunities for the beer industry. Since 2009, the craft beer market has seen a double-digit increase in consumption. Before 2008, the fledgling craft beer industry was inching up at only 5%; since then, it's taken off to the tune of 15%.

With 2,000 breweries now in operation in the USA —the most since the Prohibition era of 1919 to 1933—it looks like the craft beer craze hasn't crested. And the nearly limitless raw ingredients mean huge opportunities to innovate with new combinations of flavors, textures and colors that appeal to this growing consumer segment.

At Cargill, our malt customers are able to mine our substantial intelligence on consumer demand, brewing trends and product development. We've got the pulse of craft beer drinkers, which we use to help brewers develop new beers to grow their market share and their business. In this increasingly competitive industry, brewers need to constantly catch and keep consumers' attention.

For example, research has shown that consumers believe that wine is a healthier drink than beer. Likewise, wine drinkers are perceived to be more sophisticated and discriminating than beer drinkers. To help our customers extend wine's cachet to their tall boys, we use our technical and marketing expertise to impart vinous qualities to beer.

As such, one of our customers wanted to create a champagne-like beer. With special hops to introduce a dry, fruity flavor and a malt that imparted high fermentability, we created a specialty malt for the customer to develop a sophisticated, bubbly beer with a higher alcohol content than regular beer. Packaged in a champagne bottle and presented in an ice bucket, this innovative brew was launched successfully into the market. Moving into this market niche pushed our customer's brand to the forefront and held it there.

Another customer asked for our help producing a gluten-free beer to appeal to consumers in Canada with celiac disease. Although gluten-free is a growing market, few brewers sell gluten-free items because all malt contains gluten. Using our gluten-free sorghum-based ingredient manufactured in our barley- and wheat-free corn-processing facility, we built a robust craft beer and removed worries about cross-contamination for our customer.

When another customer wanted to venture into the largely untapped lower-calorie craft brew market, Cargill developed a specialty malt with reduced residual carbohydrate. We were able to replicate the mouthfeel of a craft beer in a lower-calorie brew. The result? A rich, full-bodied premium beer with the full flavor profile, bold aroma and strong color that consumers expect of a craft beer.

The world over, Cargill is known for its holistic approach to working with both craft brewers and major beer manufacturers to create value and growth in this specialty market. Working with us means having access to our broader capabilities that can help you brew consistently great beer, such as our proprietary reduced-calorie taste technology.  Our European malt business has been caring for, servicing and creating value for European craft brewers for decades and we are in a unique position to apply the knowledge and insights gleaned there to the growing North American craft beer marketplace.

Whether you are creating a hoppy pilsner, black IPA or a chocolatey stout, Cargill can supply the ingredients, technical expertise and market intelligence to help make a launch successful and create lasting consumer loyalty. That calls for a toast. As the Bavarians say, prost!

Xiang S. Yin, PhD, is technology director of Cargill Malt. He has been with Cargill for the last 20 of his 30 years in the industry.