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Another definition of, well, not ‘craft’ beer

Schalfly Irish StoutLet’s just call it a “good thing.”

The picture to the right made me smile first thing this morning when I saw Jared Williamson’s tweet from a few hours before.

Williamson is a shift brewer at The Saint Louis Brewery’s production brewery, otherwise known as Bottleworks, where they conjure up Schlafly beers. (He also makes a brief appearance in a book about hops you are sick of hearing about.) Somebody should be collecting the Twitter exchanges between he and Jeremy Danner, although like the message with this photo — “This is Irish Extra Stout w/fermcap. 202BBL in a 210BBL tank” — they might be too “inside baseball.”

The events of this morning got me thinking about the tweet itself. Not the words or the photo, but that it even happened.

First, there was an op-ed piece in today’s Post-Dispatch by Charlie Papazian and Bob Pease of the Brewers Association and Schalfly CEO Dan Kopman, headlined: “Craft or crafty? Consumers deserve to know the truth.” This was followed by a press release from the BA: “Craft vs. Crafty: A Statement from the Brewers Association.” And that included a link to a list of domestic non-craft breweries.

“Craft” has been talked to death in the U.S. beer blogosphere for years and now has infected England as well. I can hardly wait to read the same old debate in German and Polish. And, repeating what I typed here last week, this blog exists because I think the “where” (including where it is brewed, obviously) in beer matters. So I have nothing new to say on the craft/crafty front.

Instead, back to that tweet.

It connects us (whoever “us” is, but I think it is more than one guy who lives three miles from the brewery) to Schlafly beer in a way a commercial that costs more than a million dollars to show during the Super Bowl cannot.

That’s a “good thing.”

That some guy who works in the brewery took the time to snap the photo and type the words is also a “good thing.”

That nobody in “corporate” stopped him, that’s astonishing (other than the fact that Schlafly doesn’t exactly have a “corporate,” but stick with me, please). You think a shift brewer at one of the world’s brewing giants is sending foam-soaked tweets from a fermentation cellar? “Don’t let a focus group get a look at that foam.”

In the course of the morning crafty tweet overload, Danner made a fine point about the dangers of defining anything based on “what it’s not” as opposed to “what it is,” but this is an example of something that makes Schlafly-Boulevard-CivilLife-Perennial-4Hands-UrbanChestnut-and-so-in-St.Louis-and-then-beyond different. And it’s a “good thing.”

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19 Responses to Another definition of, well, not ‘craft’ beer

  1. Mike Kallenberger December 13, 2012 at 5:56 pm #

    I seldom respond to a post just to do a “me too,” but all I can say, Stan, is “Amen.”

  2. SteveH December 14, 2012 at 6:50 am #

    I don’t mean to beat this dead horse, but, has it finally been proven that size dictates whether a brewery can’t brew a “craft” beer?

    “…the dangers of defining anything based on “what it’s not” as opposed to “what it is,'”

    Another amen here.

    • Stan Hieronymus December 14, 2012 at 7:06 am #

      A conversation that probably works best over beer, Steve.

      One topic could be scale. For instance, rather than building a brewery that could produce 4 million barrels a growing business could decided to keep building 400,000 barrel breweries (choice of size pretty random) like its original one. But that’s not necessarily efficient.

      Next beer? How do you keep ideas fresh when a “good one” should results in x million barrels of new sales?

      And so on.

      • SteveH December 14, 2012 at 8:40 am #

        “A conversation that probably works best over beer.”

        I think all conversations fit that pattern! 😉

        “How do you keep ideas fresh when a “good one” should results in x million barrels of new sales?”

        I know that the future remains to be seen, but my first thought on that is Goose Island’s fresh ideas. But it’s really all back to a futile attempt at nailing down a definition.

  3. Dan Kopman December 14, 2012 at 8:22 am #

    That is so well written. A brewery can help connect employees to other employees to colleagues at other breweries, to wholesalers and retailers, to writers and fans and ultimately to even the most casual consumer that has much more on their mind than beer. We are thinking about how to grow our business and maintain those connections. It is the connections that create the memories. And while the dollars that come with growth are an important measure it is the memories that we will ultimately leave behind.

  4. Nate O December 16, 2012 at 9:43 am #

    Stan, I love your writing style. What you wrote answers the question “why craft beer?” better than the BA’s press release did. I’m glad people are pointing out what craft “is.” I just wish the BA’s press release was written with that in mind, instead of just attacking the big boys for being big.

    If you talk crap about someone, it just makes you look petty and small. I did love reading August Schell’s response, though.

    I’m confused. I don’t see an upside to what the BA did, only downsides. They weren’t calling for anything concrete, or achievable, just a vague “people should be better informed.”

    I’m obviously a giant beer nerd, and inclined to agree with the BA, but what they did made me mad. I can’t imagine how it made people feel who already pictured “craft” brewers as pretentious snobs.

    • Stan Hieronymus December 16, 2012 at 10:25 am #

      Thanks for the note, Nate. I’m curious. What would have you thought had the BA press release focused only on the issue of labeling, pointing out who brews Shock Top, Blue Moon, the AC Golden beers, etc.?

      By focused I mean not included the “who’s not in the club” list.

      • Nate O December 16, 2012 at 11:28 am #

        My background: I like ‘traditional’ American lagers (the kind with 6-row and *gasp* corn), and I’ve spoken with a brewer who worked at the Sandlot back in the 90’s when they started making what would become Blue Moon.

        I don’t understand how you can become a brewer, at any brewery, without loving beer. The guy who brewed Blue Moon does, and I’m sure the brewmasters at Coors and A-B love beer too. If you brew at Coors, it probably means you want a stable job with health insurance, not that you hate beer with flavor.

        Re your question: the list was especially annoying, and I probably wouldn’t have gotten mad at the BA if they had omitted it.

        But, the general point irked me. I know too many small brewers who make bad beer to think small = good, big = bad. Stating that Blue Moon is owned by Coors, and therefore can’t make “craft” beer, presumes I agree with that logic, and I agree with their arbitrary and capricious definition of “craft” beer (how big is “big?” Why are some adjuncts OK in some beers, but in others verboten? Let’s keep bumping up the bbl/year to keep Boston in the fold).

        I think the proof is in the bottle, and you shouldn’t buy into the hype, whether it’s a $20 bottle of barrel-aged beer that sucks, or a $2 40oz of Mickeys that sucks.

        If the goal of the press release was to rile people up and preach to the choir, mission accomplished. If the goal was to educate people who may not know that Blue Moon is a Coors brand, tell us why faux-craft is bad, beyond just “Blue Moon is big and you shouldn’t like it.” Show us the conflict, in real terms.

        Tell us about a real brewer, at a real small brewery. Tell us about how he or she can’t get tap space at a restaurant because faux-craft has better margins. Tell us about how they can’t get shelf-space at a liquor store, or how they can’t self-distribute because BMC fought for the 3-tier system. Show people the human face of this issue, not just some abstract idea that big brewers are inherently bad.

        • Nate O December 16, 2012 at 11:29 am #

          PS – Sorry for the wall of text. I didn’t realize I was writing so much.

          • Stan Hieronymus December 16, 2012 at 12:11 pm #

            No problem, Nate. Tradition and passion are buzzwords that get tossed around a lot – and it’s easy to think they’ve become hollow marketing terms. But as your 7 paragraphs illustrate there’s something here that people really care about.

    • SteveH December 17, 2012 at 6:54 am #

      “I did love reading August Schell’s response, though.”

      Would love to read that too. Any chance you can point the way? I looked thru both links Stan has in his post, but I’m missing it somewhere.

      • Stan Hieronymus December 17, 2012 at 7:03 am #

        It’s on their Facebook page:

        facebook.com/SchellsBeer

        I see it now has close to 800 “Likes” and more than 100 comments.

        • SteveH December 17, 2012 at 7:32 am #

          Thanks Stan, but I don’t Facebook. Someone linked to it on Beer Pulse over at BA. Good reply.

  5. Bill December 17, 2012 at 10:42 am #

    I guess I’ve said this elsewhere, but i think the BA effort fails on two levels. One is that while sure it’s fine and good to consider where a beer comes from, how it’s brewed, who make it… it doesn’t then follow that one has to do that for every beer one comes across. I like drinking local. but I’ve lived in and visited a lot of places, and have fond memories of drinking different things with friends, and some of those brews have ties to super large corporations, and so what? And if I want to drink the brews I fell in love with at a place that I’m no longer at, so what? And if pale American lagers still appeal to me now and then, so what? It does bother me that places like Schell are excluded from the club.

    The second is that what’s being obscured here is that the BA is primarily trying to pull business to its members from non-members. Nothing wrong with that. Success in this is measured in profit. Nothing wrong with that either. But let’s remember that they’re doing what those they rail against do: they’re focusing on a story about their product, not the product itself. Taste and quality is actually incidental to their efforts — you don’t need to have your beers pass a taste test or quality test if you want to join the BA. They’re selling the desirability of small (or smallish) brewers and the semblance of artisan work and a return to both brews of the past and innovations of the future, whereas the big boys are selling something else… but in both cases, it’s a story about the product, not the product itself. Consumers hopefully are choosing because they like how it tastes. That’s not primarily what either the big boys who advertise nor the BA are selling.

    On a personal note, I learned how to homebrew with Charlie Papazian’s book. It’s still the one I turn to most often. The recipes are full of adjuncts, even some that duplicate styles that traditionally don’t use them. So whenever he writes about the BA’s hardline stance on why some are in the club and some aren’t, I have to shake my head. None of us are consistent, I know.

    • Nate O. December 20, 2012 at 1:12 pm #

      I saw it pointed out on the probrewer boards that the BA doesn’t care about transparency (where your beer really comes from) when it comes to contract brewing. If you hire a bigger brewery to help you meet your demand, but you don’t state who really brewed it, that’s OK, apparently.

      • Stan Hieronymus December 20, 2012 at 1:49 pm #

        Nate: Dan Kopman of Schlafly (who commented above) did an online chat with Evan Benn of the Post-Dispatch on Friday.

        You are correct that brewery’s are not required to state who brews their beer. But many choose to. Here’s what he had to say about Schalfly’s approach:

        “I believe that transparency is best. All brewers, independent craft or large multi-nationals are free, withing the regulations set by the TTB, to make their own decisions about labeling. With the cans that we brew at Stevens Point we say on the label, brewed at Stevens Point. With the kegs brewed in Nashville, the same on the keg label.”

        I’m a fan of transparency.

        • Nate O December 20, 2012 at 2:37 pm #

          Schlafly is one of my favorite breweries. I recently moved to MO from CO, and have been blown away by their 750ml series. I had no idea they had multiple breweries. Do they contract those, or are they owned by the same company?

          I checked their website, but I couldn’t find any info about brewing in Nashville or Steven’s Point. There is a giant logo that says ‘Brewed in St. Louis.’ The only reference to Stevens Point I found was an asterisk on a blogpost about brewing their Hefe there for canning.

          I don’t care that Schlafly has three or more locations, or if their beer is contract brewed, as long as the beer is good. It would be nice to have info about who brews their beer on their ‘about us’ or ‘FAQs’ page.

          Does/should “transparency” mean going out of your way to educate people about your brand, or just not hiding what you’re doing, even if that means most consumers won’t be informed?

          I love Schlafly, and would be really interested if Dan could elaborate on that.

          • Stan Hieronymus December 20, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

            Nathan – Here’s a link to the online chat with more details about their relationship with the other breweries.

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