How big is the craft-beer business?

While overall beer volume sales in the United States decreased by 1 percent in 2017, the Brewers Association notes that craft brewery sales continued to grow at a rate of 5 percent. In fact, the Brewers Association notes that retail dollar sales of craft beer now account for more than 23 percent of the $111.4 billion U.S. beer market. No two beers are the same, and the following beer terms, courtesy of, can help craft beer aficionados better understand the beers they love.

n Top-fermenting yeast: Two types of yeast are used in brewing, and this type works better at warmer temperatures. Top-fermenting yeast, sometimes referred to as "ale yeast," is better at tolerating high-alcohol concentrations than bottom-fermenting yeast. Because it is unable to ferment some sugars, top-fermenting yeast often produces fruitier, sweeter beers. Altbier, Kolsch, stouts, and wheat beers are some examples of beers brewed with top-fermenting yeast.

n Bottom-fermenting yeast: The other type of yeast used in brewing, bottom-fermenting yeast ferments more sugars than top-fermenting yeast, producing a crisp, clean taste. Bottom-fermenting yeast is often referred to as "lager yeast," and the eventual flavor of beers produced with this yeast will depend a lot on the strain of lager yeast chosen and the temperatures at which it was fermented.


Pilsners, bocks and dortmunders are some examples of beers brewed with bottom-fermenting yeast.

n Hops: People just beginning to explore craft beer will no doubt hear the word "hops" a lot. Hops refers to the herb added to boiling wort or fermenting beer to impart a bitter aroma or flavor.

n IBU: Expressed as a number, sometimes on the bottle or can in which the beer is sold, IBU stands for "International Bitterness Units" and indicates the hop bitterness in the finished beer. The higher the IBU, the more bitter the beer.

n ABV: ABV stands for "alcohol by volume" and indicates the amount of alcohol in beer in terms of percentage volume of alcohol per volume of beer.

n IPA: IPAs are incredibly popular among craft beer drinkers. An IPA is a style of beer and stands for India pale ale. These beers boast a strong hop bitterness, and many provide a piney, floral flavor. IPAs tend to be high-ABV beers and come in different varieties. American IPAs, Imperial or Double IPAs and English IPAs are popular styles.

n Shelf life: Shelf life might not have been a consideration years ago, but craft beer drinkers often want to know this information, which indicates the number of days a beer will retain its peak drinkability. Some craft brewers indicate the date the beer was bottled on the beer's label, and BeerAdvocate notes that the shelf life for commercially produced beers is usually no more than four months.