What seems like a relatively simple question is in reality one of the most difficult and debated areas of craft beer: What exactly defines a beer as ‘craft’?
It’s a tough one. Although we don’t actually have an official definition for craft beer in the UK, many drinkers would say they know it when they see it. But, bury their head in their pint when asked the specifics as to what actually makes it ‘craft’. So what is craft beer and how is it differentiated from other beers on the market? Is it just opinion or is it something that can be set in stone?
So we know craft beer when we see it, but that doesn’t help much in pinpointing what exactly constitutes a craft beer. Sometimes it is easier to look at craft beer for what it isn’t;
- It isn’t large corporations deciding what the people want to drink.
- It isn’t about cutting corners.
- It doesn’t use cheap, low quality ingredients.
- It isn’t solely driven by profit and the idea of ‘stack’em high and sell’em cheap’.
- It isn’t just hoppy IPA’s and beer with chocolate – it’s completely possible to create amazing lagers styles that are craft beer.
- It isn’t brewed to be tasteless, drank ‘ice cold’ and ‘triple filtered’ (Who knows how that is supposed to make beer taste better?)
- And it certainly isn’t Tennents.
And what is it about?
- It is about passion and creativity.
- It is about discovering new tastes and enjoying a variety of different styles.
- It uses the best methods possible to bring you your beer.
- The brewers do everything in their power to preserve the quality of their product.
- It is a reflection of the brewer and their personality.
Yet, despite knowing the do’s and don’ts of craft beer, there is still no clear-cut definition for it in the UK. James Watt of Brewdog and Dan Shelton of Shelton Brothers Importers are two notably loud voices in the sea of opinion. With strong and well documented thoughts on how we should go about setting out a definition and the merits of having one.
But would this help to strengthen the connection between different craft breweries across the UK and Europe? And what does it protect? The breweries or the innovation of the product?
Some believe that having a definition would restrict the industry. Craft beer is something which is able to move quickly by being able to react to market trends in ways that big breweries aren’t able to. This is what makes it so special. It has the freedom to change with the times and constantly evolve.
Some argue that a US style definition is needed in the UK. US Brewer’s Association sums up craft beer as being ‘small, traditional, and independent. “Small” is defined as an “annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less”; “independent” is defined as at least 75% owned or controlled by a craft brewer; and “traditional” is defined as brewing in which at least 50% of the beer’s volume consists of “traditional or innovative” ingredients’.
When you start quantifying things – this can raise new problems too. Is Sierra Nevada and Brewdog craft beer? It’s in Tesco?
Our view – it’s still craft beer and it’s commercial success has no impact on the definition, the fact it’s successful is helping push craft beer into the mainstream.
First thing’s first – Craft beer is beer and always will be. It’s small batch beer that’s made with quality, taste, creativity and authenticity and it’s core. Craft beer revolution has only just started. Maybe the ultimate goal for craft beer is simply to to become known as great beer, because to us – thats what it is. Sadly at the moment it’s still such a small part of the overall beer market that we strive for a definition to separate it from the bad mass produced garbage on the market.
We also have to ask ourselves – would having a definition restrict the very thing we love about craft beer: its creativity? After all, it is just terminology. Should a definition define it, or should you the drinker make up your own mind as to what craft beer should be? At the end of the day it is about craft. Craft by the very nature of the word implies using skill. Is that not enough to define some of the incredible beers made since the start of the revolution?
Thanks for reading.