Craft Beer, noun – a beer made in a traditional or non-mechanised way by a small brewery.
I have nothing against what is referred to as ‘Craft Beer’ – well…maybe a couple of things, but overall I’m a fan.
There has never been an explosion of diversity and styles like we have seen over the last few years. Bars have improved their offerings and new ones have sprung up; homebrew has been reignited; and there are socials, festivals, clubs, competitions, collaborations, investors and beer schools. Not to mention dry-hopped British Pale Ales, hop-forward American Pale Ales, hoppy New Zealand Pale Ales, strong-hopped Indian Pale Ales, and so many other ways to enjoy
hops – sorry, beer.
The movement has humble roots here in the UK, where it began in the late sixties before it was adopted by North America. It grew and grew, and now there are approximately one zillion breweries throughout the US (actually 4,000 by mid-2015, with the vast majority being craft breweries). Two or three decades later, we saw fit to adopt the movement back, and began what is called ‘The Craft Beer Revolution’ by those that brew and sell modern styles. There are currently around 80 breweries in London alone. And now the rest of the world has jumped aboard, meaning craft beer is about as niche as Tesco.
Anyway, this is just the background stuff, and only partially useful in helping make my point.
The term seems more and more to be losing meaning as it becomes ubiquitous. Those that don’t know what it means still don’t know. Those that do are seeing huge breweries replicating the aesthetic, the marketing and the beer styles themselves (or more often and more simply, buying the breweries that make them). Is an American-style IPA brewed by SAB-MonsterBud-GloboBev and sold in a funky bottle or can a craft beer? If not, why not? It has taken more time in its crafting. It looks like one. It tastes like one. It might even be better than most.
Did Lagunitas IPA cease being a craft beer when Heineken launched money at it? Surely you don’t get points for being small when you’re propped up by Heineken? But if you strike gold and make an amazing beer, you want as many people as possible to taste it – why limit the enjoyment a stunning beer can bring by resisting mechanisation? It’s the same beer. Heineken wouldn’t part with millions only to change everything.
Does it mean it is ‘authentic’, or produced with a care and attention akin to that of Beyoncé’s eyebrow plucker? If so, does that suggest that other beers are not? Rude! Perhaps it just means adding a pound to the price of a pint.
My driving home my point is now becoming as boring and as useful as the term itself. So, what are the alternatives? ‘Small batch’? ‘Indie’? I don’t know. We should probably have a term that actually means something. Or maybe – and this is a contentious one – we just call it ‘beer’ and decide whether or not we like, support or engage with it first-and-foremost on how good it tastes.