Friday, 21 September 2012

A Crafty Conundrum


I've been thinking about craft beer definitions recently. Well it's better than counting sheep when you can't sleep at night and it works a treat as your mind seizes up and Morpheus takes blissfully over. In short my nocturnal deliberations get me nowhere. You see I have to think of it, because I'm on a panel to debate this thorny issue at Indy Man Beer Con in Manchester. I'll be discussing the finer points with some weighty characters too. Well their characters are weighty anyway. Their bodies are sylph like and rakish. Unlike mine, but I like beer and am very old.  We have Zak Avery, a writer, beardist and beer seller of some renown ; John Clarke, a CAMRA Chairman, quaffer of the exotic and all round good egg, James Watt,  maker and purveyor of  top dollar carbonated drinks, taxidermist and cask beer sceptic, Toby McKenzie, local brewer of cask, keg and some smoky stuff and err, me. Occasional cask beer drinker, well known voice of reason and recluse. I expect it all to be rather inconclusive, but to be done in the best possible taste. If no-one gets too mischievous that is. Or drunk.

Of course I must keep my powder dry on this one, but one thing comes up repeatedly that, I'd like your opinion on.  It is this. Is cask beer craft beer?  Is it craft beer sometimes, always, never, it depends? There's a handy little poll on the left - or will be when the new user hostile blogger interface is mastered - so give it some thought, then give it a go.  It will be interesting to have some "facts" from the assembled geekdom.  That's you lot.

I predict the poll will be inconclusive too. Craft beer. Inconclusive? Could be.

CAMRA has sent something out on craft beer.  We should be nice to it essentially. What I said in Beer Magazine yonks ago really.  Told you I was reasonable.

46 comments:

Matt said...

I'd take part in the poll but there's no option for "there's no such thing as craft beer, it's just a marketing term."

Tandleman said...

Damn. I wish I'd consulted you first. New blogger interface difficult enough though. Good point.

Phil Mellows said...

I've ticked the 'too complicated' box. By way of apology here are a couple of things I've written on the subject:

http://www.cpltraining.co.uk/philmellows/post/Cask-vs-keg-A-dispatch-from-the-beer-wars.aspx

http://www.cpltraining.co.uk/philmellows/post/Cask-beer-craft-beer-and-Camras-dilemma.aspx

Anonymous said...

Given their size,are brewdog?

Anonymous said...

It's craft if there's generally a load of hops chucked in. And if the label looks funky and modern.

Erlangernick said...

You really need a Yank on the panel to apologise for having brought the whole mess up in the first place. And to laugh at the question of whether cask can be "craft"; as I've said time and again, no cask beer in the US would ever be considered "non-craft"!

Phil said...

What Matt said - you need an option for "'craft beer' is a marketing term with no definition, making it meaningless to ask whether any beer is 'craft' or not".

It's all a bit weird really. I mean, hurrah for strong flavours and quality ingredients, but sometimes delicate flavours are what you want - and what's a quality ingredient except the one that's best for the flavour you want to achieve? It's great to have a sense of the people behind the beer, but I hear noises about BrewDog beer being contract brewed in a variety of places - does that disqualify those beers as 'craft', or are they still 'craft' if they're produced in the right way? (Or, God forbid, are they still 'craft' because they've got the BD name attached?) Even the American beer scene doesn't seem to ahve a working definition of 'craft beer', except that it's beer brewed by a 'craft brewer' - and under that definition somebody would have to tell Stuart Howe he's not making craft beer any more.

Tandleman said...

I do wish I'd put that option in. Damn.

It won't be me telling Stuart that. I know him and he looks as though he'd be a bit handy in a ruck.

Dave Unpronounceable said...

i appear to be in the majority, having chosen the 'depends' box (not that i believe a majority makes it right!). Not so much the who or the where, but the how. I would define craft solely in the ingredients and methodologies (which is of course very hard to actually qualify or define, and thus give a yes or no answer to 'is it craft'). Using the original meaning of the word craft, before it was hijacked by beery types makes sense to me. Someone creating a recipe to achieve a certain taste, using good quality ingredients, in short caring for the product - as opposed to George Jetson style push a button and beer comes out. Of course this does mean you can have bad craft beer, but i suppose there's always been bad craftsmen...

Curmudgeon said...

I would say the key determinant of "craft" is the intention of the brewer - is the beer brewed with the conscious intention of appealing to "enthusiasts"?

Cooking Lager said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cooking Lager said...

What a line up, if you threw in the Pub Curmudgeon and Pete Brown I'd stand outside and ask for autographs.

As for craft beer. It's a term invented by and used by ponces to mean "better and more expensive beer than the prols drink"

feedthetramp said...

Who needs labels? It's all beer, what difference does it make? If you like it, drink it, if you don't like it, don't drink it. It really is that simple.

py0 said...

If I like it, its craft beer.
If I don't like it because its a bit dull/bland, its not.

*If I don't like it but because it tastes too strong, its probably still craft beer, but I'm just a heathen.

More seriously, can't we just forget about all the pointless definitions and just promote variety and choice in the beer market?

Matt said...

@ Erlangernick: I think the craft/non-craft keg distinction sort of works in the US where there's next to no cask beer sold, the decent keg is produced by regional/microbreweries and the output of the national brewers is pretty uniformly awful. But it's meaningless here where national and regional/microbreweries sell lots of cask beer as well as keg. If "craft keg" is taken to mean what it does in the US - a beer made with authentic ingredients by a non-national brewer - then Holt's Crystal is a "craft lager".

pubology said...

My feeling is that craft beer has meaning, but it's rather nebulous and subjective. It's like the gastropub: you know it when yr in it, but it's hard to define. Personally, I think a lot of cask ale is craft, according the 'original' definition, not to mention the meaning and connotations of 'craft'. But I accept that in the marketplace as it exists now, 'craft beer' tends to mean overpriced hoppy keg beer, for better or worse. On my part, I am generally well-disposed towards it so long as there's also a cask option available.

Tandleman said...

"On my part, I am generally well-disposed towards it so long as there's also a cask option available."

Amen to that. If BD did cask as they used to, I'd be happy. But they can't charge through the nose, so they don't.

pubology said...

I am in fact sitting right now in Mason & Taylor, lamenting its imminent passing. I like BD's beers, but I am (shall we say) "unconvinced" by their ethos.

ABrewHaHa said...

I wish you well in your deliberations, but we know that at the end you will be back where you started. 'Craft' is nothing new, what is new is the attempt to utilise the word to signify that you should be impressed by the beer. And you should be impressed because the Brewer has told you that he (or she?) is a 'craft' brewer and that they brew 'craft' beer, which is also taken as code for keg beer. You should also be willing to pay extra for the knowledge that you are drinking 'craft' beer, brewed by a 'craft' brewer.

Anonymous said...

I think it's fair to say that craft beer is like pornography, in that you know it when it's in front of you (not in the sense that onanists appreciate it the most).
By that, I mean it's definitely 'something' and not just a marketing term.

A definition is the tricky thing- the organisation best placed to define it ,SIBA, don't seem to have a view on this. Possibly because much of their membership have no love of the term. Possibly that the issue is of little consequence to them. CAMRGB haven't offered anything either.
I doubt you'll succeed in working definition as the self styled messiahs of craft beer(mr watt and co) and the de facto UK nice beer hegenomy(CAMRA NE)share such a childish, unhelpful mutual antipathy.
A venn diagram might be a good start>

Ed said...

Why waste time discussing how many angels can dance on the head of a pin? Just go for fisticuffs. You'd take 'em Tandy!

py0 said...

Of course, similar arguments have been going round in other genres for decades. What is "real" music and what is commercial pop drivel? Can we ever really decide? Every brewer wants to make money, and the best way to do that is by brewing beer that people will buy because (presumably) they like it. This applies to Brewdog, it applies to Hawkshead, and it applies to Carling.

Drawing an arbitrary line is pointless. If you like a particular style or brand of beer, then campaign for that style or brand of beer. If, like me, you just like beer in general and like to see a wide range of varieties on offer, then campaign for that.

Curmudgeon said...

"What a line up, if you threw in the Pub Curmudgeon and Pete Brown I'd stand outside and ask for autographs."

Well, if taxis to and from are provided, and there is unlimited free beer, I will happily oblige ;-)

I reckon you need to get Jim Flynn of S&SM Branch to attend to put across the diehard anti-craft view.

Dominic, Thornbridge Brewery said...

'Just go for fisticuffs. You'd take 'em Tandy!'

I don't know Ed. Tanders is a big fellow, but Zak Avery has a vicious temper and Clarkey's in good shape these days. Watt's not small either. I'd say it'll be a decent scrap.

Tandleman said...

My fighting days are over. I'll hold the jackets if a fight breaks out. Or hide under the table.

Or run away. I'm not that fussed.

Erlangernick said...

Clearly, we need two versions of the term "craft" then: one for the US and one for the UK. In both cases, however, it's best, I think, to talk about what "craft" *isn't*, rather than what it might supposed to be.

In the US, it means "non-Bud/Miller/Coors/regional-cack-adjunct-industrolager (except in cases where the Craft Brewer[TM] is specifically brewing an ironically nostalgic cack-adjunct-industrolager clone with Intent and Heart)" and in the UK, it means "non-boring-brown-bitter/lager (except in cases where the Craft Brewer[TM] is specifically brewing an ironically nostalgic Watney's clone with Intent and Heart)".

*Much* simpler than trying to define what it is.

John Clarke said...

I will give it some thought while I'm here:

http://www.brouwerijdemolen.nl/index.php/en/beerfestival/beerfestival.html

drinking some of this stuff:

http://www.brouwerijdemolen.nl/index.php/en/beerfestival/brewers-and-beers.html

Should concetrate (or blur) the mind.

John Clarke said...

or concentrate even

Phil said...

If "craft keg" is taken to mean what it does in the US - a beer made with authentic ingredients by a non-national brewer - then Holt's Crystal is a "craft lager".

Ha! Whereas Sharp's Connoisseurs Choice and Worthington White Shield...

Let's face it, "craft" doesn't guarantee that you're getting a particular style, type of ingredients, production process, mode of dispense, type of brewery or anything else. On the level of "family resemblances" the 'craft' label suggests certain things, but in practice you've got no way of knowing whether a particular craft beer/brewer actually has 'craft' qualities or if it's just a label used by a brewer who would like you to think it has. Generally the more they shout about their 'craft' nature and the more vaguely they define it the more suspicious I get.

And a label that is sometimes meaningful but sometimes vacuous marketing drivel isn't really any use, in my view (this is my big disagreement with Boak & Bailey), because it's like a watch that sometimes tells the right time - how can you tell when it's right and when it isn't?

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

The whole thing makes me sad really. It is amusing however that as others have stated, beers like Guinness and Bass are seen as 'Craft Beers' in the States. See them coming to guest tap at Brewdog soon?

It's a lot easier to talk about what shouldn't be part of a definition: size of brewer (ah-la USA) and method of dispense (ah-la UK)

Bailey said...

There's nothing to stop CAMRA or someone else doing with 'craft beer' what they did with the equally nebulous phrases 'proper beer', 'draught beer' and 'real ale' in the early 70s, viz. deciding that's what they stood for and then working out a technical definition that they could campaign around. Whitbread and others were marketing their beer as 'proper', 'authentic', etc.., but CAMRA seized the term real ale, made it concrete and took commanding ownership of it, giving their definition almost the force of law. (Or is it legally defined?)

Tandleman said...

Bailey: Which is precisely what I and my fellow Working Party on Craft Beer members recommended.

CAMRA, in association with SIBA, attempts to write a definition of “craft beer” to help prevent further confusion and abuse of the term – the group feels this
definition does not need to be a tight, technical specification, but a broad “qualitative” definition

See here:

http://tandlemanbeerblog.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/missed-opportunity.html

Worth a re-read actually. Some of us do try and move forward.
It was rejected by the NE.



Bailey said...

Yes, indeed -- wasn't so much arguing with you as with the idea that there is no way a term like craft beer could ever possibly be defined in a practical way!

Tandleman said...

Ah yes. And what we said above was how we envisaged it.

Bailey said...

It probably can't be defined in a way that suits everyone, or that doesn't leave someone out (and moaning about it...), but for specific practical purposes, definitely.

Phil said...

"CAMRA says this is craft beer"? In principle that's not a bad idea, and I'd be in favour of pursuing it further if it ever comes round again. But I wonder how loose you would have to make the definition in order to fit real-world examples which you wouldn't want to leave out. I mean, if we know that craft beer can be pasteurised, can be bland-tasting and can be brewed by Molson Coors, what have you got to hang on to?

Tandleman said...

I think what you are hinting at Phil is that the horse has bolted and that "craft" is so debased and/or muddled that there is nothing left to hang onto.

Yet there is is. In use and in some way, people kind of think they know what it is.

Matt said...

Bailey compares the term "craft beer" with "the equally nebulous phrases 'proper beer', 'draught beer' and 'real ale' in the early 1970's". I've heard this argument before and never understood it.

OK, "proper beer" is subjective but "draught beer" and "real ale" aren't. One's drawn from a cask or keg, the other's cask or bottle-conditioned.

Bailey said...

Matt -- in 1969, the Monopolies and Merger Commission report had to tackle the fact that 'draught' was used by one set of people to mean all beer drawn from a larger container into a glass, while others used it to mean 'cask conditioned'. The SPBW were campaigning to get the definition fixed as 'cask conditioned' from 1968. Its meaning is only obvious now because of years of boring conversation about what it did and didn't mean, and whether it was or wasn't meaningless. Thank God they didn't have blogs...

'Real ale' was just a buzz-phrase with no fixed meaning until 1973. Big keg brands had been marketed as 'real bitter', and Carlsberg as 'real' for years before then.

Craft beer can be reclaimed! (And that's worth doing as it's a snappy phrase, like real ale.)

Tandleman said...

Bailey says:"Craft beer can be reclaimed! (And that's worth doing as it's a snappy phrase, like real ale.)"

I sort of agree and disagree. See my comments to Phil above. What we really mean by craft beer in most circumstances is craft keg, even though that ill defines craft.

Seems to me that what everyone does is take us back round the mulberry bush to where we started.

Bailey said...

Well, what if CAMRA just came up with a definition of 'small producer keg beer that is welcome at our festivals, subject to organiser approval' and avoided using the term craft beer altogether? That would be fine too, though a wasted opportunity to communicate easily with people who are excited about craft beer.

Tandleman said...

Bailey- with respect you are conflating two different things. The definition and what people should do with the definition.

Bailey said...

Think they're inextricably linked. If you're not using it for anything other than pub chat and pondering, you don't need a strict definition. A strict definition is only required when it's going to be used in the real world to make decisions.

jesusjohn said...

"What we really mean by craft beer in most circumstances is craft keg"

I think this *might* be true in beer blogging circles, but I don't think it is to customers. Craft is a marketing term, best used (when used honestly) by pubs and bars than breweries to signify "brewed for flavour".

I have some sympathy for those arguing CAMRA could come up with a definition of craft, but a technical definition of craft excluding cask would be a shot in the foot for the organisation that primarily defends cask! I want cask to be craft (i.e. brewed for flavour/NOT Carling - delete as applicable).

I do see some merit in CAMRA keeping its cask focus but recognising a tightly defined range of keg products (unpasteurised? could that be the technical fix?). But the focus on cask has to be maintained; it is unique.

jesusjohn said...

PS - Tandleman, I remember your Working Group article and thought the proposals exactly the right first steps. It was indeed annoying they were knocked down so thoughtlessly.

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