It started, as so many things do these days, with a tweet:
When analyzing the history of American craft beer, one of the fascinating qualifiers in recent years has been the description used for longstanding breweries that helped create the path so many have followed. “Heritage” and “legacy” are words thrown around often as adjectives for these businesses that launched so many beer enthusiasts: Sierra Nevada, Dogfish Head, Stone, and others.
Yet, none of these breweries have actually been around for that long. Stone opened in 1996! But for many drinkers, they’re old news, only made relevant by the constant churn of new brands released that helps them stay relevant and ratchet up Untappd check-ins.
Modern American craft beer is weird. It’s really not that old, whereas what would qualify as “full flavored” or “non-macro” or whatever non-corporate title style beer elsewhere around the world goes back hundreds of years as the OG option.
The US industry sometimes feels different because in its short lifespan, the combination of American culture, palate and ingenuity has allowed its beer to evolve wildly and rapidly. An easy example might be the country’s defining craft style, IPA, which in just the last 10 years has seen its trendiness shift from malt balance to IBU arms race to moderated bitterness to sweetness and fruit to hazy and juicy. An India Pale Ale that gets a beer geek excited today wouldn’t be recognizable to someone from 2008, and likely vice versa.
And that was the basis for the above tweet. 2018 looks to be the year many of these “heritage” breweries continue their efforts to keep up with their smaller, nimbler craft counterparts. Research and development has always been a huge part of breweries like Sierra Nevada or Boston Beer, it’s just that sometimes it feels like they’re left behind because the younger members of the industry are capable of moving at such a fast pace. These older breweries are showing up to the party late, asking “How do you do, fellow kids?“
This is the basis for the Brewery Assumed Lifetime Formula (ALF for short), a wildly unscientific, inaccurate (but sorta fun!) way to put into context the “age” of these longtime breweries.