Title: Head Brewer, Matilda Bay Brewing Company (Vic)
Annual output: 2.93 million litres*
The act of defining what “is a craft brewery”, is primarily driven by taxation issues. The subsequent refining of the definition by brewers or their associations is to give a point of differentiation so that customers and consumers can be helped in understanding the differences between craft and non-craft breweries.
What does craft beer mean to me?
Craft beer styles hold true to the basics of flavour and technique. The flavour of craft beer is dictated by the ingredients and techniques used. The balance between the malt and hops, and the flavours that are produced by the yeast enhance the drinking experience. The use of these ingredients or adjuncts is designed to increase the flavour profile, fill out or add complexity to the beers. It is this often challenging nature of the beer that has them stand apart from the “regular” beer styles in the market. The varied beer styles from the creamy fullness with cloves and bananas in wheat beers through to the drying resinous bitter nature of a Pilsner. The craft brewer challenges the drinker’s palate and gives them real flavour and complexity to draw out and identify what’s in the beer.
The techniques that craft brewers use are often more traditional, however they are not very far removed from the production of regular beers. It can be argued that the techniques used by craft brewers may be based on the way the craft brewers came into the market. A large numbers of craft brewers came from home brewing backgrounds with no formal brewing training. The mechanism was then to scale up the home brew kit into one that will produce enough volume for the next venture. Capital available to purchase a small brew kit was the limiting factor in its design, resulting in a very simple apparatus of small volume. There are many instances where the use of small breweries is built with pubs or restaurants attached as the shop front and point of sale for most of the beer volume.
In Australia the craft brewer has become synonymous with “micro brewers” just because of the size of the Australian craft beer market and the nature of the path to market by craft brewers. There is no real impediment to make a massive brewery that can produce craft beers. I know because I have a design rattling around in my head and the experience to make it real.
At the other end of the spectrum we have the regular beer market that is defined by increasingly lighter and lighter beer styles. Most brewers wear the blame for driving these styles, but really what business is going to produce products that consumers don’t what to buy? The market place has its own self regulating system, if the beer is not to the consumers liking it doesn’t get bought. The feedback that is received from consumers is that light beer, beer that is light in flavour is what they want to consume. Hence we have the increasing proliferation of “regular’”, “low carb” and “easy drinking” beers. Really most brewers would give anything to make craft beers. We just need to convince the market to buy them.
In your view does Australia need a definition of craft beer similar to the US? Does it matter for consumers who make the beer?
A definition of craft brewing needs to be holistic, those that are filling the need to consumers should be defined as craft brewers regardless of size and ownership etc.
The inclusion of innovative products and connecting to the customers and consumer in different ways those are more about the beer and less about the marketing.
What I’m interested in is educating consumers on the magnificent array of flavours that can be used in brewing to produce wonderful beers. Hopefully through education the major and not the minority of beer drinkers will move from low tasting beers to highly flavoured beers. I still think there will be a position for the “lightly flavoured beers” in the marketplace, I just hope that more people discover how great craft beers are to drink.
In a practical sense a definition will be developed by those in the industry anyway. Each interest group will manipulate it there own way, including or excluding those areas that give them the most advantage. A firm definition will only be derived by either government legislation or by a major industry body that all participants subscribe to.
*Nielsen ScanTrack Data used to relate comparison. Does not reflect total output, but packaged sales.