It was arguably already dead, but 2017 will undoubtedly go down as the year the terminology ‘craft beer’ was rendered meaningless in Australia.
Less than three years after launching the What Is Craft Beer? educational website for consumers, the Craft Beer Industry Association has jettisoned the descriptor entirely.
Its successor, Independent Brewers Australia, has a singular focus on industry advocacy and member support. Category marketing and consumer education is no longer considered part of its remit.
The ‘craft’ delineation was also dropped from the festival now known as Sydney Beer Week, a move designed to make the festival more inclusive, but interpreted in the usual quarters (sometimes known as the telephone booth gang) as meaning less ‘crafty’ events.
The reality is that ‘craft’ has long been in a vegetative state, in the absence of any definition such as that underpinning Brewers Association membership in the US.
The US definition is certainly an arbitrary one. It dictates that with Kirin owning 24.5 per cent of its shares, Brooklyn Brewery is bona fide craft. With AB InBev owning 32.2 per cent of its shares, Kona and Redhook owner Craft Brew Alliance is not (though this exclusion doesn’t stop it from having ‘craft’ in its name).
But although the US definition is highly debatable, it is a definition. Without any corresponding definition in Australia, those organisations most intent on using the words ‘craft beer’ are increasingly those with the most questionable credentials to do so.
Urban Craft Brewing Co is a subsidiary of Rockpool Dining Group, which is owned by Quadrant Private Equity, as part of an $850 million investment portfolio that also comprises pet food, automotive and healthcare assets.
Recently, Urban Craft Brewing has expanded its distribution outside its own Bavarian Bier Cafes and their Rockpool brethren, into independent bottleshops and pubs.
“Last year 12,000 hectolitres of our finest were created, brewed, poured and drunk – a number we’re looking to double in 2017!”, its website says.
There is a horizon on this crafty foray for Quadrant, which has already exited 51 investments since 1996.
Quadrant nominates an expiry date sometime in 2024 for the particular fund that now includes Rockpool and Urban Craft Brewing, obviously calling into question its interest in the industry beyond that date.
Meanwhile, the brewers of Yenda have been enjoying “exploring the boundaries between mainstream and craft”, according to owner Australian Beer Company.
Those boundaries will be imperceptible for most drinkers in the wake of Yenda’s Australian PGA golf sponsorship, which occasioned tournament exclusive beer Yenda Eagle, a “mid-strength mainstream style of craft lager”.
Even Pauline Hanson is on the craft beer bandwagon, as is our beer swilling ex-PM Bob Hawke.
And retailer First Choice Liquor recently hosting a ‘Craft Beer Festival’ mostly comprised of its own made-up brands, such as Lorry Boys and 3 Pub Circus.
Craft no more
Such widespread misappropriation of ‘craft beer’ is why Newcastle venue Grain Store no longer uses the term, according to founder Corey Crooks.
“When we opened our doors at the Grain Store almost four years ago we also had the subheader of ‘Craft Beer Cafe’,” he said recently.
“With what I have seen happen over the last few years, we have been in the process of removing any brand relationship with the word ‘craft’, preferring to place more emphasis on what we proudly sell being independent.”
The only relevance ‘craft beer’ has in Australia is the somewhat arbitrary definition used by the analysts at IRI to delineate beers that are, broadly speaking, smaller in volume and more flavoursome, from the rest of the category.
With ‘craft’ now otherwise meaningless, you have to ask yourself whether those businesses that persist in using it will be keeping the best company for their brand.
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