What's a craft brewer? A small one perhaps? One that is innovative and makes their beer to precise standards using the finest ingredients? One that uses traditional methods, or seeks genuine full on taste and quality in what is produced? One that isn't produced in bulk and is only distributed on a limited basis perhaps? Something that is of higher quality maybe? Something artisanal could be an answer, but then you get into the problem of agreeing (or not) about yet another definition. It's all a bit tricky isn't it?
I was reading that America's oldest brewer Yeungling is buying a closed brewery in Memphis with a view to increasing its distribution beyond its current 13 states. The brewery was closed by Molson-Coors (not the current owners) and was first constructed in the 1970s to brew Schlitz. It can brew rather a lot of beer, as can Yeungling; currently its production is over 2 million US barrels. What really caught my eye though was the headline " Former Coors plant in Memphis to be acquired by craft brewer Yeungling".
Now clearly the US isn't here and we should always be wary of blindly following what the US does. (A different subject, but pretty good general advice as it goes). Yeungling is by all accounts, a pretty good brewer which is becoming a bit of a cult, but is it really a craft brewer? Would we call a brewer producing 2 million barrels of beer a craft brewer here? I suspect not. Of course scale is different there. The (American) Brewer's Association defines "craft" as being under 2 million barrels a year, so Yeungling must have been pushing at that door for a while and presumably will cease to be "craft" soon. So it's size then! Or is it? There is more suggested attributes of craft brewing here. Hmm. All seems a bit woolly.
I'm not keen on the word "craft". It allows itself to be too easily stretched and redefined according to the whim of those using it. It has no precision or wide acceptance in use. In beer terms it seems to be basically " beer not brewed by one of the big "mega-brewery" corporations". Maybe that's good enough, but here it has definite connotations of quality I'd suggest; in fact of superiority. It isn't just a description that simply tells you what it is, but one which has a subliminal suggestion of something better than the norm. In the case of beer, maybe it is "better" than the mainstream stuff, but then again, in a lot of cases, it probably isn't? Either way, somehow its not a word I'm really that comfortable with. Who is a craft brewer here and who isn't? Who is in and who is out and to whom does it matter? I'm not sure, but if in doubt, follow the money. Brewers I think would generally quite like to be called "craft". It helps beer to sell; but it is a little bit Alice Through the Looking Glass.*
Nonetheless, the word is gaining a lot of currency in British brewing and blogging, but it is one I'll be using very sparingly and probably, like a lot of others, inappropriately. *"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone," it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."
A bit of a CV. Tandleman is a veteran beer lover, local CAMRA Chairman and activist, beer writer, beer reviewer and pursuer of all things good in beer. He lives in the North West of England and London. Despite his CAMRA membership, he does not limit himself to cask conditioned beer, though he believes that cask conditioning, when done correctly and appropriately, brings a quality to beer that is hard to equal by any other kind of presentation. He is a strong supporter of Northern methods of beer dispense and avidly detests poorly presented beer and dislikes pasteurisation. He regularly visits Germany, has conducted corporate British and German beer tastings for CAMRA at the Great British Beer Festival where he has worked for years on Biere Sans Frontieres and was Deputy Organiser at CAMRA's very successful National Winter Ales Festival in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 and at the Manchester Beer and Cider Festival from 2013 to date. He admires good brewers wherever they are and has travelled extensively in pursuit of good beer to drink.
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