Is there any more vacuous and pointless phrase in the beer world today than "craft beer revolution"? For crying out loud we can't even agree on a definition for "craft beer", having heard of late that apparently the likes of Samuel Adams and Fuller's don't count because they are big companies, a symptom no doubt of the bitter fan unable to handle that his once exclusive domain has been invaded by scurrilous interlopers whose only interest is to enjoy a nicely made pint rather than question if said beer is "in keeping with the style".
Now, I don't want to get into the whole definition of what constitutes "craft beer", but I do want to pick up on the word "revolution". Just for reference sake, here is a dictionary definition of "revolution":
- an overthrow or repudiation and the thorough replacement of an established government or political system by the people governed.
- a radical and pervasive change in society and the social structure, esp. one made suddenly and often accompanied by violence.
- a sudden, complete or marked change in something.
Obviously people drinking "craft beer" is not bringing about the first definition there, in fact if some of the beer geeks I have overheard of late were let loose anywhere near government I would be running for the hills, as they have all the fervour of the Spanish Inquisition or the McCarthyite Trials. I guess definition two is out of the running as well, purely from observation in the local supermarket, the vast majority of people are still buying Bud Lite, and I am yet to see a craft beer fundamentalist smash a mini-keg of beer over someone's head in an effort to get them to convert. Three is a no starter because it has taken Samuel Adams 25 years to become one of the biggest craft beer companies in the US, and they have just 0.9% of the total American beer market according to their current advertising.
Evidently then, all this talk of "revolution" is complete and utter unfounded bullshit, but it sounds great in marketing a product, after all why be normal and every day when you can be "revolutionary"?! Of course the marketing bullshit brigade would have you believe that almost every product you buy these days is revolutionary, whether it is your vacuum cleaner, the shoes on your feet or the amazing new healthy sweetener which is just natural sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup.
The question though has to be asked, what is going on with craft beer? It is beyond question that, especially in the American market, there are more and more craft breweries, making a wider range of beers, as well as crossing beer styles to make hybrids and new styles (and no, Black IPA is not revolutionary either, interesting yes, revolutionary no - putting the ingredients together in a slightly different way is not a revolution). Aging your beer in wooden casks is not exactly revolutionary either, what do you think they used before metal? Using weird and wonderful herbs and spices is nothing new either, think of beer before hops, so that's not revolutionary.
The British context is easier to get a handle on in my opinion because we never had the insanity that was Prohibition, and so still have a few decent sized independent breweries that have been around for more than a century. Of course there are plenty of new microbreweries opening up across the UK and their share of the market is increasing, but is it revolutionary? On the mainland of Europe there is a similar story, large family owned breweries are being supplemented by a growing number of smaller start ups making beers which have never been seen in those countries before, but still the larger breweries use the traditional methods and ingredients and can be regarded as "craft" brewers.
So no, there is not a craft beer revolution going on, though there may be plenty of revolting craft beer and craft beer drinkers. What is happening is a renaissance of the brewing industry, and if in the course of that renaissance the big industrial brewers want to jump on the bandwagon and make craft beers and widen the number of people enjoying well made beer then that can only be a good thing in my book.
Here endeth the, slightly longer than intended, lesson.