The Language of Beer: Is it “Craft Beer” or “Microbrew”?

brew edu_bookworm_beerWhat’s in a name?

A lot, really.

Our language has amazing duality, both steadfast in its origins and fickle in its expanding lexicon. When it comes to beer and wordplay, it’s much of the same.

I’ve done previous research on the vernacular journey of beer, from the use of the phrase “craft beer” to how it spread and when grammar changes took place.

It’s a fascinating topic and mirrors our country’s growing interest in beer and what beer can be for people. But it’s also only part of a larger story to tell, which is why I’ve reopened that book with the help of review site, Yelp.

Yelp recently released 10 years of data as part of its new “Yelp Trends,” which searches through the platform’s user reviews to show “what’s hot” and reveals word-use habits. Even better, you can narrow searches to a collection of nearly 100 cities, honing in on geographical biases from people around the country.

Putting this in relation to beer, there’s some fun to be had with Yelp Trends and how they reinforce our evolving language and interests in beer.

First, let’s start with one of the most basic twists of the tongue in the language of beer – if beer comes from a smaller brewery do we call it “craft beer” or “microbrew”?

It’s a question I addressed last year, using Google Trends to determine that while “microbrew” might have been the preferred word usage about 10 years ago, there was a clear distinction around 2009 where people’s searches for “craft beer” easily outpaced “microbrew.”

But with the help of Yelp, we can narrow this change down to specific cities in the U.S. to see where the trend setters came from and find out if this is the new “pop” vs. “soda.”

No surprise – two beer-famous locations stand out.

Here’s the Yelp Trend line for Boston, where we can see that craft beer and microbrew were both present in reviews as far back as 2007, but just after the start of 2009, “craft beer” became the phrasing of choice. So much so, microbrew is barely used any more:

Boston - craft beer vs microbrewOddly enough, San Diego was strongly on the microbrew bandwagon, but it’s not even a question of what leads now:

San Diego - craft beer vs microbrewOne funny part of San Diego’s word usage? That dip in “craft beer” you see in 2011 and 2012, partnered with a slight uptick in “microbrew.” I couldn’t easily discern what might have created that change, but the New York Times did run this piece in late May 2012 highlighting San Diego’s booming beer scene. Maybe people were still holding onto some nostalgia for microbrew?

Also in California, Los Angeles is decidedly reviewing locations using “craft beer,” but in a city populated by people now getting more familiar with the beer industry, it lagged behind. It wasn’t until almost 2011 that craft beer took over microbrew:

Los Angeles - craft beer vs microbrewDitto for Sacramento, which is a bit wild in its usage:

Sacramento - craft beer vs microbrewThe Wild Cards

But here’s where it gets a little strange.

In Seattle, which I’d guess is among the more progressive beer cities in the country thanks to locals’ appreciation and longer relationship with craft beer, it still has something of a battle between using “craft beer” and “microbrew”:

Seattle - craft beer vs microbrewMy first instinct was that people may use “microbrew” as a synonymous term with coffee, which would explain the prevalence of that word in reviews of a coffee-famous city, but a quick Google search suggests that using “microbrew” to define beer locations could be more popular than I thought, especially among tourist groups and businesses.

On the flip side, there is still some struggle to adopt today’s beer vernacular in the South, the last great frontier for craft beer.

In Memphis, neither “craft beer” or “microbrew” showed up much in Yelp reviews, but within the last year, craft beer has finally started to pull away:

Memphis - craft beer vs microbrewThis may make sense, as Memphis seems like it’s not exactly a booming beer culture, as based on options highlighted by RateBeer and Beer Advocate. Even the city’s tourism site seems a bit lacking in beer options – museums and a taxi company are included in their beer tourism list.

Similarly, Louisville is still struggling to find its way, even though “craft beer” has an even – albeit small – edge:

Louisville - craft beer vs microbrewMaybe more people simply need to visit Against the Grain.

What does it mean?

In all these cases, the use of “craft beer” and “microbrew” seem to reinforce my previous research suggesting that 2009 was a catalyst year for a shift in our beer-centric language. To boot, the New York Times also confirms this, with their own helpful search tool that finds word use in all their stories:


But just to throw a wrench in things, here’s a fun twist in the New York Times word choice:

But let’s not focus on what some newspaper chooses to do. There are lots more interesting finds from Yelp users to highlight, which may better reflect our country’s preference in word choice, including a growing acceptance (and excitement) for new styles of beer and craft beer itself.

Related ‘Language of Beer’ posts:

+Bryan Roth
“Don’t drink to get drunk. Drink to enjoy life.” — Jack Kerouac


5 thoughts on “The Language of Beer: Is it “Craft Beer” or “Microbrew”?

  1. I’m a struggling worshiper of our Lord Jesus. For some reason, every time I get drunk, I feel a deep connection with Him. Now, I think the reason for this is because I have certain cross to bear that only He trusts me with. Even though the Holy Word tells us to avoid drinking, I feel this connection when I’m in a dark place in my mind, and begin drinking. So, what our Lord says is to “Store My commandments in your heart. If you do this, you will have many years.” If I keep fooling myself into thinking that I’ll be a better person when I get drunk and read the bible and be filled with His Word, I’ll live a better life; I WILL DIE YOUNG. What are the natural re precautions for excessive alcohol consumption? Health defects that usually result in DEATH. Ask any doctor! The Lord wasn’t just saying these things to warn us of His anger and disappointment, He is actually warning us of what is to come of our sins! That includes drinking. The bible calls it drunkards.

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