*** WARNING – INCOMING RANT POST ***
There has been a lot of debate lately on the recent news of Lions departure from the CBIA by retiring the memberships of their Malt Shovel (James Squire), Little Creatures, and White Rabbit labels. While the discussion is lively, I’m going to touch on a related issue that has been bothering me for quite some time: the use of the word ‘craft’.
Before I go too deep, I’ll admit that I do use the term on occasion and use #craftbeer on Instagram. The ‘C’ word is a cheap and quick stand-in when discussing beer and I make no apologies for its infrequent mention in my posts or for its use to drive more hits. This is where my usage of it stops, though.
The tagline for Brews and Bacon used to be “Chronicles of a Craft Beer fan”. Months after I wrote my first post, however, I changed it to “Good Beer fan” after a good deal of thought and introspection. I’ve shared this line of reasoning with a few people, but I’ve decided that, in light of recent comments in certain online discussion forums, I’ve decided to share with everyone why I use ‘good’ in place of ‘craft’.
‘Craft’ is Undefinable
The first and biggest reason is that the term ‘craft’ can’t really be defined properly, especially here in Australia. It’s a debate that’s raged on for years and continues to stir up controversy every January when the GABS Hottest 100 Beers is released. Every attribute used to pinpoint the term is easily counter-pointed with a contradiction. Let’s have a look at a few of these examples:
Ownership: “A craft beer is one made by a brewer who is independently owned”
It’s a fair point and a good place to start. A craft brewer is free from the shackles of the ‘man’ and contributes to the local economy. This argument has its pitfalls, however. Firstly, the definition of craft is “skill in planning, making, or executing”. Does the financial backing of a large company take away this skill? Not really? Look at Ballast Point Brewing out of the US. They’re owned by Constellation Brands, a large company with the likes of Corona in their portfolio. How about Mahou San Miguel and their 30% ownership of Founders? Elysian and ABinBev? Lagunitas and Heineken? Many here will happily drink a KBS which is partly owned by a big company (making it not craft by American definition) but take issue with someone drinking a Gage Roads beer which was, until recently, part owned by Woolworths or a Little Creatures and their Lion affiliation. Do we see the hypocrisy here? ‘Independent Beer’ should replace ‘craft beer’ in this instance.
Locally Produced: “A craft beer is locally produced. Drink fresh, drink local!”
This is a point I can get behind and I drink locally as much as I can, but I do not use it as a definition for craft. Local, in itself, is a definition that’s open to debate. What constitutes local? Is it a brewery within 50km of where I live? If that’s the case, then by this standard, Black Hops is not craft based on my location. Is it beer made within your state? Within Australia? What about all these so called ‘craft’ beers that come from New Zealand? The US? The XXXX brewery in Milton is much closer to me, so is it therefore more craft?
As with the ownership argument, the ones who slag James Squire as being a money funnel to Japan also purchase the latest Evil Twin or Belching Beaver brews out of the States. With this case, the term ‘Local Beer’ should replace the term craft.
Size of the Brewery: “A craft beer is made in smaller batches”
I feel like I’m starting to repeat myself here. Enter Stone Beer, a brewery that causes heart-eye emojis with many beer geeks in Australia. Stone produces 38 million liters of beer per year (2015). Ballast Point, another fan favourite, does 30 million. That Backwoods Bastard you enjoy so much? Well, their brewery pumps out about 105 million liters a year. Compared to these numbers, Lion owned James Squire is a mere 4.74 million and Little Creatures, while double that size at 10 million, is still a meager amount compared to these brands. Why not say ‘local beer’ if that’s your definition and drop the c-word?
Innovation: “A craft beer is one that pushes the boundaries of what beer should be”
We can thank the brewers of recent history for the plethora of choice we have in flavour. Big, bold IPA’s with grapefruit, imperial stouts with cacao nibs, and curry flavoured pale ales really do push the boundaries of what we perceive beer to be. But should this be the definition of craft?
If so, then the likes of Cantillon, Weihenstephaner, Rodenbach, Chimay, et al, technically don’t fit under the banner. These breweries have been making the same beer for a very long time, centuries in many cases. They’re a testament to the style they produce and are a benchmark for many brewers, but not ‘craft’ by the above-mentioned definition. Once again, craft should get the boot and be replaced with ‘innovative/interesting beer’.
Taste: “A craft beer has more flavour and tastes better”
Amen! I want better tasting beer! That’s why I say it’s GOOD BEER, not craft beer. Great tasting beverages can come from anywhere. I still love Little Creatures IPA and won’t turn up my nose to a Bright Ale if that’s all that’s available at the small bottle-o near the in-law’s place. It tastes delicious! James Squire’s Jack of Spades Porter ranked second on a Crafty Pint blind tasting, stacked up against 15 others of the same style, beaten only by Founders, which as mentioned above, doesn’t fit the craft definition set up by the US’s Brewers Association. Surely, that should be evidence enough to include such breweries under this label?
Taste is also the most subjective of the aforementioned definitions. What one palette believes is the greatest beer on the planet could be a vile, ultra-sweet, alcho-pop to another. The bonus of using the term ‘good beer’ instead is that it doesn’t claim to be anything BUT subjective. Saying that I like good beer is saying that I like beer that is good to me. The term ‘craft’ can’t define my taste buds.
It throws out all other definitions in the process. A beer can be made by a brewery that’s partly or wholly owned by a large company in the United States, in massive batches and that’s true to style, or be produced a kilometre down the road as a one-off, funky batch from a completely independent producer; if it tastes good to me, it’s good beer.
Good Beer is a less pretentious term
Craft beer elicits images of bearded hipsters sipping away on a blackberry and lemon myrtle-infused IPA for many people and the likes of Budweiser have cashed in on it with their Super Bowl ad back in 2015. This commercial basically stated that “beer is beer and is to be consumed not dissected” and went on to mention things like a ‘pumpkin peach ale’ (with the image of a beer in a Spiegelau IPA glass; good job AB on the research). While I don’t wholly agree with the ad, it does highlight the whole ‘us vs them’ mentality that’s emerged in the last few decades.
If you’ve ever tried to talk politics, religion or had any moral-based discussion with someone of an opposing view point, you know how difficult it can be to make someone else see your side. One clear strategy that should be avoided, though, is clobbering someone over the head with your way of thinking and denigrating any other view point. That just makes the person you’re talking to dig their heels in deeper. That’s what has been done for quite a while now, with ‘craft’ drinkers looking their noses down at anyone who would even consider a macro beer and those who drink it not having any of it.
So, the term craft is now tainted. It’s association with weird beer imbibed by stuck up people is going to be hard one to shake. Anyone with that connection in their mind is instantly going to shut down when the c-word is mentioned. Let’s re-brand then and take a different marketing approach! Let’s say “hey, if you like that insert big label beer of your choice here, then you’ll like this good beer here” while you hand them a Spoiler Alert from Brewcult. Notice the lack of judgement in the statement. It gets them to try something new but similar to what they’re used to, tastes great, and gets them to see your point of view without feeling threatened. The loss of ‘craft’ beer gives us the opportunity to be more inclusive.
As I’ve done for years, I’m still going to push the good beer agenda. I prefer locally produced beer, that’s made in small batches and challenges my taste buds. I refuse to call it craft beer, though; it’s good beer. I enjoy drinking a White Rabbit Dark Ale or a Little Creatures Pale Ale while at the local pub with mates, but it’s not craft beer either. Both are good beers, and that’s where the argument should end.