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‘Craft’ beer: Yada, yada … yada

It never ends, does it?

But where to start in recapping the various outbreaks of “craft beer” conversations and heated debates, including the occasional obscenity?

1) The Street asked “Is It Still A Craft Beer After the Brewery Sells?” The focus here is on the Brewers Association definition of craft beer. Been there, done that, but I understand. This is a business story. There is a need to classify.

But do consumers feel the same? One thought from Max Bahnson’s brilliant reply to BrewDog (I’m skipping head; details in the next paragraphs): “Really, whether we like it or not, most people do not give a scuba diving fuck about who makes their beers, any more than they do about who makes their I-crap, their jeans or their merchandise t-shirts.”

2) BrewDog seems to have kicked off the latest round, with replies coming in from multiple countries, calling for a specific definition, which the Scottish brewery is kind enough to provide.

And, “Why do we need a definition? 3 words: Blue Fucking Moon.”

That white type on black background must be funded by some optometrist organization, but if your eyes hold out there’s good reading in the comments. I’m with Tim Webb when he writes, “I think I favour developing and promoting clear views on aspects of beer making over trying to define them as craft or industrial, and leave definitions to one side.”

3) Two opinions from Germany: “Warum Craft Beer eine Definition braucht …” and “Mein ganz persönlicher Kommentar: Craft-Brauer am Marterpfahl.” Google will translate these for you if you are using Chrome.

I grabbed this from Felix vom Endt’s post (the first one) for Twitter: ” “Craft Beer ist eine Kultur, eine Einstellung und eine Philosophie.” That translates to “Craft Beer is a culture, an attitude and a philosophy.” Pretty good, but could be more inclusive.

4) OK, as promised, the link to Pivní Filosof, in which Max Bahnson makes some additions to the BrewDog definition:

– The person in charge of production at a craft brewery must be at all times someone with at least, say, 3 years of professional experience. Start up breweries that don’t meet this requirement will have to wait three years, without changing their head brewer, before they can apply for the certification. (I believe that if we can discriminate based on size and ownership, we can also discriminate based on professional expertise.)
– A craft brewery will apply certified quality control processes, which can be audited at any time by an eventual organisation.
– Unless sold directly to the public, craft beer can only be sold and distributed by certified vendors, who must also comply with standards regarding conditions of transport, storage, dispensing and training of their staff.

I plan to write about “what makes a brewery great” or maybe “what makes a great brewery” for Boak and Bailey’s next “go long” thingy, and it seems a pithy comment from Bahnson will be in order.

Meanwhile, should we start a “Send Max some Blue Moon” campaign? Because …

You know? I’ve never drunk Blue Moon, but I would really, really love to. It’s been so maligned by some business interests and their brainwashed fanboys, that I’m beginning to get the impression that it’s one hell of a good beer, otherwise, why are those business interests so afraid of it?

5) Speaking of pithy and quality assurance, failed academic Zak Avery concludes: “I’m not interested in your credentials if you’ve paid for them. Let the beer do the talking for you.” And the part where he talks about “dull, poorly conceived and/or badly made” beers at IndyManBeerCon and the Great British Beer Festival, that could have been the Great American Beer Festival.

6) Alan McLeod at A Good Beer Blog hones in on the notion of “a fair and sustainable price for their masterpieces.” Then yesterday he reported on a crazy ass study funded by a Calgary microbrewery. That silliness aside, think about this: “One thing Max and I have realized through writing the as yet untitled book is that when you unpack these ideas you are left with uncertainty as to not only their extent but also their causes. I am starting to wonder if they are indicia of a troubled relationship. As with an unfortunate choice in a dating partner or a dead end job there is a period of time when you try to convince yourself that things aren’t what they appear to be.”

7) And, with apologies to everybody else who may or may not have something new to say about all this, the last words go to Martyn Cornell: “Watt’s latest campaign, to try to get an ‘official,’ ‘industry recognised’ definition of ‘craft beer,’ to ‘protect the fledgling craft beer movement in the UK and in Europe’ and also to ‘protect and inform the customer,’ suggests to me he doesn’t actually understand the business environment he is working in as well as he thinks he does. What is more, his arguments for the need for an ‘official’ definition of craft beer are entirely nonsensical and totally evidence-free.”

5 Responses to ‘Craft’ beer: Yada, yada … yada

  1. Steve Carlton October 21, 2013 at 8:15 am #

    Great article! Unless there are federal rules or regulations in each country we will probably never really all agree. But we can all decide by spending our beer money wisely. Cheers!

  2. Chris Shepard October 21, 2013 at 12:35 pm #

    I could go on for days (in fact, it’s likely that the time I’ve already spent thinking about this is measured most accurately in days, if not weeks, rather than hours.) In my latest thinking about the term “craft beer,” spurred by all the same writing this post is, I began agreeing with Martyn’s conclusion but disagreeing with his reasoning. As you know, I come from the business side of writing about beer, so for me, clearly delineating segments in order to track data is a high priority. But it also seems to me that “craft beer” isn’t what it is in the US today w/out the the BA, which as an organization requires a line (definition, however arbitrary) to determine those that can be members and those that cannot. Who knows what the industry would look like without it, but it would surely be different. And if I’m outside the US looking in, I can see how I might want to point at the way it’s happened here and want the same. (Also, the article we ran in Craft Brew News about the BrewDog suggestion, which I was not the primary author for, we posted to our blog late last week too – Many thanks, as always!

  3. Gary Gillman October 22, 2013 at 1:59 am #

    I support the BA’s approach here until such time as big brewing is much more on the craft taste vector than it is, pace Blue Moon, Goose Island and a handful of other cases. In truth, little mass market beer resembles beer made in a traditional way that is usually unpasteurized.

    As for the U.K., I’ll tell you what caused the ruckus there (IMO). APA. The taste is so different it made many people look at a BrewDog, say, differently than a Ringwood (founded 1978), even though both are part of the same ongoing process since the mid-70’s. It’s the New World hops. Everyone thinks of APA has the hallmark of the new craft beers in England, it started with golden ales and continued from there. However, as Martyn and many others have argued, there is no sufficient basis to distinguish craft brewing from other brewing. Either it’s good, or not. In England, there is a lot of fine beer which never stopped being craft one might say. In America, it had to be re-invented. Had the C-hop tasted mostly like a Golding, the newcomers would be regarded simply as the latest markets entrants rather than revolutionists.


  4. Gary Gillman October 22, 2013 at 2:02 am #

    Sorry, I meant, “…. Everyone thinks of APA as the hallmark of the new craft beers in England…”.


  5. Dean Rittenhouse October 24, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    … reaching for another brew from my kegerator…. ok, I’m good now. Ummmm… from my experience with local craft breweries, if one of the owners isn’t a former home brewer, then the label “craft” is hard to apply…

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