I read with interest a recent editorial in US beer magazine, BeerAdvocate, in which the editors pondered the following: “what should we really be calling this thing that we call ‘craft beer’.“
Now, call me crazy, but I thought we had only just settled on the term ‘craft beer’ and that everyone who mattered was happy with that.
In Australia back in the 80s we used the term ‘micro’, but that gave the impression that size was everything. Then we had ‘boutique’ for a while which, as everyone knows, is where you go to buy an evening gown, not a beer. So it was decided – more by common usage than any sort of vote or referendum – that the term ‘craft beer’ meant anything that DIDN’T come out of one of the two big breweries in the country. The two camps were neatly defined and the drinkers in each were content.
Not so our brewing and beer drinking friends over in The Land of The Free. It appears that some sections of the Beer World in the US are already over the term ‘craft beer’ and have decided it doesn’t mean what it’s supposed to mean. They are happy to admit that ‘craft’ literally means something created with skill or someone who creates with skill but that the common understanding of the term is applied only to small breweries.
It seems that part of the problem with using the word ‘craft’ is that it allows large brewers to produce “craft-like beers” and, as a result, the purity of real craft beer is undermined. Is this the point at which we realise there is a big difference between the scenes here and in the US or is this just nit-picking over semantics?
In this case I’m happy to concede that the craft beer scene in the States is way ahead of us in many respects – I offer as Exhibit A the fact that you can buy a beautifully brewed 8 per cent IPA in a can over there – but I won’t concede on the terminology front. I believe we are able to judge a beer by the way in which it is brewed and by the integrity of the ingredients and by its adherence to style, regardless of the size of the brewery from which it is brewed.
In a country with a beer drinking population as small as ours we probably need to promote the difference between something that is crafted to a recipe, not just produced to a budget. We need to recognise the beer that is crafted to be drunk over the one that is distributed to be sold. We need to appreciate the love that has gone into perfecting the taste as different from the one that is used to advertise a major event.
It’s not about claiming that one is more of a beer than the other or that one is more important to our cultural identity than the other or that one has a more valid place in the beer landscape. It’s just being able to identify the difference. The difference between a ‘craft beer’ and a ‘mainstream beer’.
Let’s just keep it simple, shall we?