Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Cask IS Craft


Well it is if you believe beer geeks that read this blog.  My poll about whether cask beer can be considered craft is over and the results aren't that surprising.  Of course, like all polls, some didn't like the questions and suggested that different questions should have been asked.   If I'd thought about it at the time, would have included one suggestion - "that there is no such thing as craft, it's just a marketing term."

So what did the voters say?  A respectable 130 voted. Only two brave souls (1%) agreed with the proposition that craft beer comes in bottles and kegs/keykegs.  That is a little surprising, as actually, I think a very good case can be made for postulating that when people think of craft beer, that's usually what is conjured up in their mind's eye.  Of course, my readers being a sophisticated lot, saw through that and most (83%) thought that cask could be, or indeed is, craft beer.  The majority within that group thought it depended on "who, where and how" which is interesting.

What conclusions can one draw from this?  Firstly that real ale, to most minds at least, is or can be craft beer. Secondly, that what for example BrewDog calls craft (keg) may well be, but then again, so would the cask beers they made before, which they subsequently abandoned as part of their "craft revolution".  Thirdly and most importantly I venture, is that since people largely thought that cask is craft "depending on who brewed it, where and how, there is a fair degree of  "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it". For my part, I'm tempted to come to the conclusion that craft beer is actually just "beer I approve of" and including cask is done more as a sitting on the fence, politically correct sort of thing, while actually associating "craft" in their mind more with keg and fancy bottles.

Like many though, I think that I'm tiring of the subject a bit, though I have to admit that airing it is usually fun. Inconclusive fun, but fun nonetheless.  No doubt the debate will rage on, not least at IndymanBeerCon in Manchester on Friday, where I'm on a panel to discuss it with, among others, BrewDog James.  Now he clearly thinks that craft is keg and that cask isn't and you know, in differentiation terms, I might well agree with him.  In quality terms, I certainly don't.

So there's a bit of my take for Friday. Craft is at least partly a marketing term to differentiate new keg from traditional cask beer and from other discredited "old" keg beers. Bit like New Labour was termed to set aside Old Labour.


Of course none of this covers the important fact that increasingly the term "craft" is being hi-jacked by bigger breweries, thus muddying the already muddy waters even more.

45 comments:

jesusjohn said...

"including cask is done more as a sitting on the fence, politically correct sort of thing"

I just don't agree with this at all. Pubs and bars that use the word "craft" are not differentiating beer from beer (i.e. cask from keg) but what they perceive to be stuffy language of "finest hops" and "traditionally brewed" from what they can sell as "artisan-made" or "brewed for flavour".

This might well mean they end up selling some very trad beer indeed (doon sooth, Harveys Best is often present and correct alongside more modern styles).

The Snooty Fox is holding a "craft ales" festival this week and Craft Beer Co proudly boasts 10-12 handpumps.

In my viewm craft cask is just decent beer, marketed to appeal to an audience that is ecumenical (yes, they'll like decent keg too) and more interested in signifiers of quality than tradition.

jesusjohn said...

(and if the signifier of quality takes them to a trad beer, so be it)

Tandleman said...

Ah yes. I agree that the general public at large might well do that, but I was referring to the somewhat more geeky element that reads, comments and votes on blogs.

I wasn't attempting to set off round the mulberry bush again. I'm saving that for Friday.

Tandleman said...

And pubs might do so too. Is that then just a marketing term? Here we go.....

Bailey said...

"including cask is done more as a sitting on the fence, politically correct sort of thing, while actually associating "craft" in their mind more with keg and fancy bottles"

Can't speak for anyone else, but it's not this for us. (People are either keg-fans or secret keg-fans? Doesn't leave much room for manouevre...)

Tandleman said...

Association and fandom? Are they one and the same?

Bailey said...

Oh, you know what I mean! (Was also thinking about your Tweet the other day re: faked sincerity -- people are either sincere or pretending to be sincere...)

Tandleman said...

Well I mentioned the old adage about faking sincerity.

I don't mean that people don't think it honestly, but when someone says craft beer to me,I immediately think of expensive keg beer. Perhaps I'm the only one? My response was because the majority of my voters said "depending on who brewed it, where and how". If they were that sure of definitions surely they would have voted for a different option.

Most people are reasonable, therefore they are attracted to the position that seems most reasonable, even if something different may be the instant association. We do that all the time in so many different ways as instinct says one thing and nurture says another.

Bailey said...

Pondering a bit further, if someone told us a 'craft beer pub' was opening in Penzance (not that likely...) we'd expect:

1. no Doom Bar; probably no Tribute, even though we like it; none of the usual suspects, in short
3. at least three real ales, probably more
4. a decent selection of bottles and
5. maybe some keg.

I think we can imagine a 'craft beer bar' without any keg at all, in fact: bottles, especially Belgian, are far more important to us.

Tandleman said...

I think that would be an unusual definition these days, though not out of the question.

Bottles are another water muddier. Free house - multi tap one - have sold these for years.

Is there a difference do you think, between a craft beer pub and a craft beer bar? Would you expect different products within?

py0 said...

I think we should just recognise "craft beer" as a marketing term used to inform non beer obsessed members of the public that there is beer out there that is very different (better? who's to say?) from the usual five brands of beer they get in their local boozer.
You have to look at it as a generic adjective, like "tasty" or "innovative", rather than a technical term like "porter" or "cask conditioned".

Tandleman said...

py0

There is the basis of an argument for that. Of course some would deride that it is just a marketing term, even if it is a useful one.

We do have to think outside the geek bubble mind.

Beermunster said...

Of course none of this covers the important fact that increasingly the term "craft" is being hi-jacked by bigger breweries

This is an interesting point. If a beer is successful, at what point does it cease to be craft?

I suspect the image of craft beer most people have is of beer made in small quantities by microbreweries. Most people would I suspect say that Marston’s Pedigree is not craft beer since it is produced in huge quantities. But then what about a beer like say Wychwood Hobgoblin, that starts out being made in small quantities, but then goes on to be mass produced. The beer hasn’t changed, but I suspect few people nowadays would regard it as “craft”.

One thing everyone seems to have missed is that In the US, the American Brewers Association actually defines a "craft brewery" as one which produces less than 6 million barrels 700million litres per year.

Phil said...

I think that last point is really important. The phrase "craft beer" was imported from the US scene, and simultaneously redefined as *not* meaning what it does over there! No wonder nobody can agree on a definition - in the UK it's been a free-floating label from day one. I think all you can say about craft beer is that it's the kind of beer that people who say they like craft beer like.

Tandleman said...

Beermunster: I don't think that point is so much missed as irrelevant, as is most US/UK comparisons as far as craft goes.

The reason that US Craft is set at 6 million US barrels is that breries such as Sierra Nevada and others keep brewing more and more. To keep them as craft, they up the limit. If not craft would be declining as a % of the US beer market.

If that isn't manipulation, what is?

Tandleman said...

PS Marston's Pedigree uses the Burton Union system. Isn't that crafted by any reasonable definition?

Bailey said...

We'd be pretty surprised to find a craft beer pub without cask ale; less so a craft beer bar. (Though the distinction is more about the target market and decor, to my mind.)

Tandleman said...

I think that's true for what would be commonly agreed as a pub. For commercial reasons if nothing else.

As for a craft beer bar, is there many that don't sell cask apart from BD?

Bailey said...

Tandleman -- re: Burton Unions -- exactly the kind of thing which makes trite, one-line definitions impossible. They only use it for a portion of the beer they produce, and, as far as I can tell, it doesn't lead to any staggeringly brilliant beer, but it's the kind of thing that suggests a lingering respect for brewing tradition and craft. It certainly can't make financial sense to preserve it, except perhaps insofar as a small amount of benefit it is derived in terms of marketing.

Bailey said...

Our nearest is the Hand Bar in Falmouth and, as far as we can tell, they don't usually sell cask beer. Their niche, down here in the land of 'traditional Cornish ales', is American, Belgian and German beer on keg and in bottles.

py0 said...

Brewdog is on at extreme of the ideological dispute, hardline "all keg beer is undrinkable" CAMRA members are at the other, the majority of us are somewhere in the middle.

jesusjohn said...

Py0 said: "I think we should just recognise "craft beer" as a marketing term used to inform non beer obsessed members of the public that there is beer out there that is very different (better? who's to say?) from the usual five brands of beer they get in their local boozer."

<< This.

Tandleman said...

Bailey: I think Marstons are very coy about how much Pedigree comes from the unions and how much from conicals. As I understand it, they are blended. Undermines the craft case, though most would call Burton Unions a craft system.

The Hand Bar is the very type that will have its niche status compromised if your previous predictions come true. Nice good - chain bad? Nothing is simple I suppose.

Tandleman said...

JJ: this?

Erlangernick said...

@Tand

...when someone says craft beer to me, I immediately think of expensive keg beer.

When someone says "cask beer" to me, I immediately think of craft...well, actually as I don't use the term that's not true, but I think of everything which Yanks think of when they think of "craft" beer. Of *course* cask is "craft"!

Really unfortunate that this silly marketing term has taken off and that you lot have to deal with it now. Yet worse: it's hitting Germany, where the term not only has to be explained, but also translated. Though thankfully without British cask ale baggage.

Once again, people, the term was conjured up to enable the contract brewers like Sam Adams and Pete's Wicked Ale to cash in on the then-young microbrewery/brewpub movement. "Hey, look, our beer's good too; it's also NOT adjunct-laden megabrewery swill, even if it is sometimes fermented right along side such swill."

Now he clearly thinks that craft is keg and that cask isn't and you know, in differentiation terms, I might well agree with him.

I suggest you don't, as it would get twisted around and end up in some "punk" marketing about how they converted even *you*.

Tandleman said...

Ha. A trap I won't fall into. Anyway. I expect it all to be rather amicable. Possibly.

Cooking Lager said...

Craft means "It costs more and appeals to ponces" Simples. Next question?

Tandleman said...

I'll stick to that on Friday.

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

I also like the term artisanal, suggests a bit of thought behind the beer, not just following what everyone else is doing.

Cooking Lager said...

I also like the term artisanal as you can break it into art is anal.

Phil said...

not just following what everyone else is doing.

Depends how you define 'everyone else'. (Double! Triple! Imperial!!!)

Brewdog, of all people, used to be very good at *not* going with the 'craft' crowd. I've got fond memories of Edge, which was a session-strength cask-conditioned dark mild - and a very nice one. Long gone now, of course. Kids these days.

RedNev said...

"When someone says craft beer to me,I immediately think of expensive keg beer." Me too. But this topic is so tedious, you've all got me yawning ...

Cooking Lager said...

How about the definition "trainee tramps piss"

The logic being it is invariably extreme beer in regards to abv & hop content. The high abv is slowly turning the crafterati into alkies with only themselves not noticing their personal decline. The typical crafterati being about 2 years away from park benches and cans of spesh.

Kieran Haslett-Moore said...

How is that Mulberry Bush looking?

Tandleman said...

I'll be going round it again on Friday. Will let you know Kieran.

Ron Pattinson said...

I'm just back from a craft beer festival in Canada. About 90% of the beers on offer were cask-conditioned. Not sure what that tells us.

Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams) produces far more beer than Marstons yet is considered craft. Personally, I'd take cask Pedigree over any of their beers.

Tandleman said...

Funny old world.

Erlangernick said...

Before the barrel-aging thing blew up, cask was the *epitome* of what-the-kids-call-craft in the US. To make an *ale* and then put it in a *cask* and serve it through a *handpump*??? How awesome!

Erlangernick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ian Worden said...

I've followed this thread since yesterday but it struck me that something was being missed. I've just realsied what it was - surely the epitome of a craft brewery in the average person's eyes would be Donnington?

The US craft brewery definition is not as simple as just output (see craftbeer.com). Less that 25% of a craft brewery can be controlled by a firm in the industry that is not a craft brewer, so translated to the UK that would probably rule out Sharps, York and no doubt several others. There are also requirements that the largest brand (or at least 50% of all volume) should be all-malt beers.

I was also interested to see a prominent link to the American Homebrewers website. I didn't find anything comparable on the CAMRA website, which is unfortunate because with more and more beer being drunk at home CAMRA should place much more emphasis on polypins (potentially deliverable by the people who do crates of wine) and home brew. I don't think RAIB is the way to go given comments I hear about quality.

This is relevant since surely home brewing very definitely produces craft beer, yet seems to be forgotten in these discussions.

Sadly, CAMRA seems to be drifting away from promoting real ale per se to just promoting cask beer in pubs. I suspect that the survivors of the 1000 brewers will be ones who can develop new markets, whther cask or keg (see the kegerators on craftbeer.com, designed to go in your kitchen).

Phil Edwards said...

translated to the UK that would probably rule out Sharps, York and no doubt several others

Re: Sharps, yes, that was exactly why I quoted it. The definition doesn't work in the UK, so the label is left floating around waiting for somebody to define it.

As for York, in any case, given the long history of breweries owning a string of pubs, to disqualify a brewery because it's part-owned by a pub company would be taking purism a bit far!

Sadly, CAMRA seems to be drifting away from promoting real ale per se to just promoting cask beer in pubs.

Some would say that real ale is cask beer (which is almost invariably served in pubs), and I'm not sure I'd disagree with them.

Tandleman said...

This is really why people should forget the US when thinking of craft beer in the UK.

I can't really think of real ale as being anything other than cask. I don't like RAIB as a term.

Phil Edwards said...

I think the US definition is crucial, though, because it's the only definition there is. The original UK 'craft' enthusiasts took the name without bothering to think about how it would be defined, and so you got the mess... er, situation... we're in now, where 'craft beer' is basically whatever 'craft beer drinkers' drink.

Curmudgeon said...

"I don't like RAIB as a term."

In retrospect, CAMRA was wrong to view bottle-conditioned as a direct equivalent to cask-conditioned, although at the time it was largely irrelevant. Bottle-conditioning had largely died out well before cask-conditioning for very good reasons, and today, while the category does include some excellent beers, RAIB ends up being used as a badge for a lot of utter dreck.

Cici Stacy said...

Thanks for sharing , This is an interesting point, I also like the term artisanal, suggests a bit of thought behind the beer, not just following what everyone else is doing.I've got fond memories of Edge, which was a session-strength cask-conditioned dark mild - and a very nice one. Long gone now, of course. Kids these days.windows 7, office 2010 on www.getsoftwarekey.com