Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Craft - A Consumer's Perspective?

Ah 'craft' beer, the gift that just keeps on giving. What is it? What is it not? How to define it? Can it even be defined? So far this week I have read many a post, tweet, and Facebook status about the latest attempts to define 'craft' beer. Or, at least, how to define it from a British perspective.

Not content with copying paying homage to the language used on Stone Brewing's labels, those iconclasts of suburban wannabe rebellion, BrewDog have now copied paid homage to the Brewers Association by lifting their text for a definition of a craft brewery practically verbatim and are attempting to apply it to a British and European context. For thoughts very close to my own on this issue, see Martyn and Max's excellent pieces regarding this latest utterly manufactured furore.

One thing that never seems to come up in these somewhat tedious arguments (as someone that studied the minutiae of medieval theology that is saying something) and dick waving contests is what the consumer thinks? By consumer here I mean your average bloke/lady that drinks beer in the shop or goes to the pub with his/her mates.

I am sure I am being presumptuous here, but I am fairly sure that the average beer drinking consumer gives not a shit about a definition of 'craft' beer, they only care about the stuff in their bottle or glass and how it tastes. The average consumer, I am also rather sure, neither knows nor cares whether Blue Moon is made by MolsonCoors, they only care that in their opinion it is a nice beer, perhaps a bit different from what they usually drink.

'Craft' beer, if it is to be defined, really needs the consumer to be in the driving seat, not those with a vested interest in aligning themselves with the fastest growing sector of the industry, as well as the one which is currently riding the wave of popularity. This is why I think an organisation like the Campaign for Real Ale has greater legitimacy when it comes to defining a product, it is the creation of consumers. If the consumer, as a general rule, doesn't particularly give much of a toss, then perhaps people need to spend more time brewing the beer they are so passionate about and less time trying to convince us that 'craft beer' matters beyond a tasty way to get a hangover.

4 comments:

  1. The people to ask "which beers are craft" (not "what is craft beer") are the people who drink the stuff. If we think it important, that is.

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  2. I actually think they're highly attuned to the distinction--though I don't know that the word "craft" resonates very broadly. Whether they like craft beer or don't, the knowledge that "microbreweries" (still the most common word I hear) exist is now very broadly shared. Some think they make wonderful, rich products, and some think they make pretentious, overpriced swill that fools hipsters, but either way, they know.

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  3. New commenter here, but have read blog for some time.

    I agree this must be consumer-driven. While not militating for any kind of organization (perhaps the world is too fragmented now for this), I think slowly UK consumers are beginning to perceive a difference between new beers as it were and those traditionally known. On one side, you have bitter and mild, with porter and stout add on (or back) in the last 30 years, plus the odd strong ale. On the other side, you have pale ales flavoured with highly citric New World hops, wheat beers and flavoured beers. I believe the latter group derive from American practice of the last generation and these are the craft beers. It doesn't matter who brews them, it can be Thwaites (e.g. its new Triple C), BrewDog (Punk IPA famously) or a mega-brewer. Blue Moon is a craft beer certainly by this definition.

    However, I think in time, as these new tastes and styles get absorbed into the British scene, the distinction and animated discussions about craft will fade. The new will become established and everything will carry on. The iusse BrewDog has raised is an ephemeral one I think and reduces only to accurate label descriptions and this is down to the trade description laws. If they aren't tight enough, make them tighter, but I wouldn't go further.

    I doubt pressure will come again from consumers to create a craft beer movement since it really isn't necessary: craft tastes are quickly becoming a permanent part of the British story.

    Gary

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  4. Gary,

    Thanks for your comment.

    I tend to agree with you, the BrewDog proposal will likely whither in the face of Great British Indifference, which kind of shows that the 'craft beer' evangelists, like many a zealot, fail to understand the wider context of the beer drinking public who simply do not give a shit about the title on the label but rather the flavour in the glass.

    If there is a problem with honesty in advertising (oh the delicious irony of that being in their description) then there is always the ASA to appeal to, and the Trading Standards Act.

    Creating a new definition and subsequent organisation to defend it smacks more of ego stroking than genuine concern for the consumer.

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