Friday, 12 November 2010

What is a 'Craft Brewer'

So the arguments about Cask and Keg rumble on, I suspect they are never going to stop but a couple of people have asked the question, what is a craft brewery? and what happens to the breweries that aren't considered 'craft'?
Two extremely good questions, lets deal with them one at a time?

What is a Craft Beer?
Well this(below) is as good a statement as any and it seems to provide more tradtitional breweries such as the *Moorhouses and Fullers of the beer world a foot through the craft beer door :

Craft Beer is an American term which is also common in Canada and New Zealand and generally refers to beer that is brewed using traditional methods, without adjuncts such as rice or corn; brewed for distinction and flavor rather than mass appeal (from Wikipedia).

Now I know that there are writers and bloggers out there that will spit their beer out at the thought that an Americanism might be spoiling the language or beer and brewing but that's just tough, you know as well as I do that our language is a very fluid thing.
But I'm not here to talk about language, I started this to try and define craft beer and I don't think I'm doing a very good job!

I personally think that craft beer is beer that's had the personal touch, where the brewer has taken the time to select the ingredients carefully, put a bit of thought into the beer he/she is brewing and then do their best to get the beer to the outlet in the best possible condition(be it from a Cask, Keg, Bottle or Can).
Personally I also like the thought that there are breweries and pubs being the centre of the local community. You only have to look at Pontypridd to know what I mean.
Don't get me wrong, I don't only drink craft beer, I have been known to drink a mass produced lager or two in my time and if you've read this blog for any length of time you'll know that Guinness is myt 'go-to' beer for want of something different, but I drank these beers in the knowledge that they are mass produced and that very little 'craft' to speak of has gone into them. I just happen to enjoy beers that I know have had some effort put into them. So sue me.

What do you think of the wikipedia statement above? I think it's a very reasonable way of putting things, it keeps  breweries like Moorhouse and Fullers in the craft beer picture and rightly so in my opinion. Why shouldn't these breweries claim a part in the craft beer revolution?

So what about the other question? What happens to the breweries that aren't considered craft? who knows? not me. I'm not naive enough to think for one minute that these mass producing, monolithic multinational brewing monsters are going to go out of business any time soon as why would they? At the moment they have a place in the market. They produce (relatively) cheap beer and the masses still drink it, for want of something better I suppose. Partly I think because craft beers tend to be more expensive and 'the people' still have these prehistoric hangups about how cheap their beer has to be.
Watch this space I guess.

*These were just two of the breweries that were either mentioned to me or mentioned in other posts on the subject.


Reading Tom said...

The definition from wikipedia is a start though I guess one mans adjunct is another man's innovative ingredient and I think the last clause relating to mass appeal just reads as rather elitist when surely what you really want is beer of distinction and flavour with mass appeal - I'm sure Fullers would consider London Pride a craft beer and no doubt want to sell as much of it as possible to as many people as possible.

Anonymous said...

I think the adjunct comment is arbitary: the point's been made before, but corn is used in Dogfish Head's Chica, a traditional "native corn beer". Does that mean Dogfish Head isn't a craft brewery any more?

There's some discussion of that issue here:

Also "traditional methods" isn't a great term. How traditional is Brewdog's Tactical Nuclear Penguin - a whisky cask aged beer, made insanely strong by removing the ice? (I know there's a limited precedent in eisbocks). Surely if there's one good example of a craft brewery in the UK, it's Brewdog. It's a definition that limits innovation.

The second part of the definition also seems entirely subjective. I agree with the above comment that wanting to appeal to the masses is sometimes a good thing. Otherwise we start arguing about breweries "selling out" in an elitist manner.

I think craft beer is a useful term but one which defies a rigid definition. You could always say that "independent breweries" or breweries up to X capacity are craft breweries, but that doesn't really get us where we want either.

Possibly the problem is that we're trying to retrofit a term to a meaning, when what we really mean is good beer that someone's put some love and thought into.

Anonymous said...

I used to define a craft brewer as one that used their hands in the brew, and not just to turn a knob or push a button. I suppose you could now define them as hand crafted brewers with craft brewers now becoming an umbrella distinction for the category.

I would have to say that in my opinion, Fullers would come under the Craft Brewer umbrella. They don't just pump out cheap beer for the masses and do innovate as well with some of their special bottled releases and the recent Bengal Lancer etc.

All the recent 'Braucon' breweries would fall under this larger Umbrella too (many American micros and even the Camden Town brewery) where the majority of the process is automated. I think it's unfair not to call Sierra Nevada or Great Divide a craft brewery just because a lot of the process is automated.

The 'Hand Crafted' tag could then remain sacrosanct for smaller brewers that still 'get down and dirty' such as Otley, Lovibonds, Purity right down to the micros such as Spa Fine ales at Royal Tunbridge Wells etc.

So where would this leave Green King and Marstons? A craft brewer or one that pumps out cheaper beer for the masses?


Ed said...

The Craft Brewing Association has been around for years so it's not a new term in Britain.

I think it only makes sense in a William Morris kind of way though. I don't really see how you can call something like Fullers a craft brewery - I mean, have you seen the size of the place? What's wrong with just accepting that some industrial breweries can make good beer too?

rabidbarfly said...

@ReadingTom - you're right it is only a start. And as for the elitist part is slightly skewed, I take it to look at beer made with Rice or Corn, which are generally tasteless crap.

@Beerprole - on the dogfish issue - no because they advertise it as such and also happen to make some fantastic beers. I would cite Brewdog as a craft brewery but it's by no means the only one and I would try and steer clear of just naming the popular breweries and
look at some others.
As far as the mass appeal goes, yes I'm sure that brewers want their beers to be as appealing to the masses as possible, it is kind of stating the obvious.
Your point on independent breweries is a good one and possibly worth exploring(jeezus not another one).

Martyn - if you mention GK on here again, I'll string you up, I've had enough junk from them in the past!(both beer and mail).

Ed - THAT'S a good point - I like that and kind of agree with it!

Sid Boggle said...

@ beerprole: "Surely if there's one good example of a craft brewery in the UK, it's Brewdog."

Seriously? Why?

Anonymous said...

@Sid Boggle - Just because if we're looking at US craft breweries as a model, Brewdog's the one that fits most closely with them and wears those influences on its sleeve (Stone etc). It seems as if it deliberately set out to be a Scottish version of one.

As an aside, their recent interests in cans, keg etc may be a product of that.

Sid Boggle said...

Or you could try and adapt the US Brewers' Association definition for the UK.

Anonymous said...

@Sid Boggle - It's a nice, clean, fairly objective definition. But it leaves you in the situation where a beer, without being made or tasting any differently to how it was yesterday, loses "craft beer" status overnight as a result of increased production or a minority shareholder increasing their shareholding to 26%.

Which isn't a problem, unless we're saying "craft is good".

Sid Boggle said...

@ beerprole: Quite. It's a discussion that's going on in the US at the moment, with Sam Adams expected to go 'over the top' in terms of production. Tricky piece of jelly, isn't it?

I see you're off to NYC - have a good trip.

Anonymous said...

@Sid Boggle - Cheers, I will!

Nicholas King said...

I think Craft Beer is a great term but like Fine Wine it is practically impossible to define.

But I don't think it is about definition. Volume production, ingredients etc are all metrics which will always ultimately break down. For Example; Dom Perignon is produced quite serious volumes but (even if it not your favourite Champagne) you would be hard pressed to say it is not a Fine Wine and then there is the great example @Sid Boggle makes about Sam Adams.

IMO both terms are about articulating a much more interesting idea. They have the ability to effortlessly communucate a sense of quality and excitement and the good news is that for both is that it is pretty damn obvious when you have had one.

If that means that you are left to your own devices to come to a personal decision every time you have a beer/wine then frankly so be it.

Rob Sterowski said...

@beerprole: if you're not going to say "craft is good", what's the point of having the term at all?

Professor Pie-Tin said...

Cask,keg,craft,lout - who gives a flying fuck ?
Provided it tastes okay I couldn't care less how it's made - and neither does most of the rest of the population.
It's only beer wankers who complicate matters.
An ice-cold bottle of Heineken supped while admiring the pert breasts of nubile Swedish totty while sat on a sweltering Greek beach tastes every bit as good as a pint of Old Bollocks Scratchings is some undiscovered pub in the arehole of the back of beyond.
Does it really fucking matter how it's made so long as it gets you juiced ?

Anonymous said...

Surely the only important thing about a beer is how it looks and tastes. If you only enjoy a beer because it's called craft beer you are more ignorant than people who won't accept that beer is anything other than a pint of stuff to get you pissed.