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craft beerBig may not always be bad, but it’s seldom beautiful.

Although refreshing on a hot day, U.S. commercial beers are thin and watery with almost no flavor. Now we know why:

The USDA researchers crunched data on the US barley and beer markets, and found that craft brewers on average use four times more barley per barrel of beer than the giants do

And craft brewers use more hops as well.

In essence, Big Beer (like Big Almond) has hit upon a profitable strategy for reselling tap water at a high markup.

It is no wonder sales of craft beer are exploding while sales of commercial beer are falling.

And although malted barley is usually produced by large global companies, that may be changing as well.

Currently, the malted barley industry is global in scope and dominated by a handful of companies (PDF), including Cargill. But alongside the craft-brew explosion, small, locally oriented malt houses are springing up nationwide, providing a link between brewers and nearby farmers. And that could be a good thing for the environment. If US farmers incorporated a “small grain” like barley into the dominant corn-soy rotation, it would break insect, disease, and weed cycles, drastically reducing reliance on toxic pesticides, a 2012 study conducted at Iowa State University found.

And while we’re on the subject of craft beer, remember that the dark, smoky varieties with high alcohol will improve with age, just like wine and whiskey:

For a beer to benefit from aging, there are several basic prerequisites. First, it should be strong — at least 8 percent alcohol by volume. Alcohol acts like a preservative against a beer turning stale or skunky. Virtually all beer bottles display the alcohol content.

Sweetness, from residual sugar that didn’t ferment during brewing, also helps, as the sugars develop malty, caramel-like overtones. Smoky-flavored beers, as well as those affected by souring yeasts or bacteria, can also do well in the cellar.

Don’t try that with your Bud Light.