Tuesday, November 5, 2013

What Craft Isn't

A couple of weeks ago, in light of BrewDog's attempt to define a 'craft' brewery, I set up a little survey on SurveyMonkey, basically asking if consumers regard certain beers as 'craft' or otherwise.

The beers on the list were as follows:
  • Fullers 1845
  • BrewDog Punk IPA
  • Worthington White Shield
  • Becks
  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale
  • Pilsner Urquell
  • Yeungling Lager
  • Anchor Steam
  • Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale
  • Budvar/Czechvar
  • Tipopils
  • Guinness Foreign Extra Stout
  • Franziskaner
  • Hoegaarden
  • Magic Hat 9
  • Staropramen
  • Stella Artois
  • Samuel Adams Boston Lager
The first, and main, question was simplicity itself, pick the beers you consider to be craft. Broken down by ten percent segments:
  • 91-100: None
  • 81-90: BrewDog Punk IPA
  • 71-80: Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Anchor Steam
  • 61-70: None
  • 51-60: Magic Hat #9
  • 41-50: Samuel Adams Boston Lager, Fullers 1845, Samuel Smiths Nut Brown Ale
  • 31-40: Worthington White Shield
  • 21-30: Tipopils, Pilsner Urquell, Budvar
  • 11-20: Yeungling Lager, Hoegaarden, Franziskaner, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, Staropramen
  • 00-10: Stella Artois, Becks
Some interesting points come from these numbers. Firstly, less than a quarter of the brands in the list were pretty much unanimously regarded as 'craft', while exactly half of the beers were regarded as definitely 'not-craft' with less that 25% of respondents regarding them as so. Secondly, the split of styles, 'craft' beer would seem to be inherently, according to these numbers, warm fermented.

Perhaps most interesting to me is the group of beers right in the middle of the list, partly because they are the beers that I expected to divide opinion. When it comes to the group of beers which are neither pale hop forward and warm fermented, nor yet pale and bottom fermented, opinion is sharply divided.

In terms of the people who responded to the survey, only 13% work for a brewery or a related trade, and 92% drink at least a few times a week.

I am sure there is plenty more to unpack from the survey, but I think the thing which is clear is that more people agree on what 'craft' isn't.


  1. Very interesting, and I don't think your conclusion is surprising: "craft beer" is reactionary in origin; it was born as a notion of "something else, something not-this". We may claim to know it when we see it, but we're on much surer ground when denying the badge to a beer.

    Stella and Becks are the wrong style and from breweries the wrong size and with the wrong ownership structure. Is it because they're pitched as classy imports in the US that you reckoned they might scoop a few craft votes?

  2. I think the fact that Becks and Stella both picked up a couple of votes each actually tells us more about the demographic of beer drinkers that took part in the survey than the marketing of the product. At least one respondent claimed that every beer on the list was 'craft'. Speaking purely from an anecdotal perspective, I can't think of any of my friends who would define Becks or Stella as 'craft', though a few of them are happy to regard them as well made beers, an entirely different kettle of fish.

    I wonder if the 'style' thing is one of the main drivers behind the concept of craft, especially when you see how closely Tipopils, Pilsner Urquell, and Budvar were in the voting, coming as they do from a small Italian brewery, the Czech arm of SABMiller, and a national company that is only 'non-craft' because of its size. I suppose you could argue that being successful makes you 'non-craft', so the definition being espoused is the beer world's version of penis envy.

  3. How the hell is Tipopils not 'craft'?

  4. Did you pick up (via self-label or IP address) the country of the respondents? I suspect (though perhaps this is wrong and I'd love some data) US respondents would be more likely to consider some lagers craft beer (especially something like Sam Adams BL), as compared to drinkers in the UK who ( I suspect in part because of CAMRA) tend to default to an only-ale-can-be-craft stance.

  5. Ben,

    One of the questions was 'Which beer do you drink most regularly?'

    I plan to dig more into the responses for that question and see what I can gather from them.


    As I alluded to earlier, I think there is a very definite 'craft' is not 'lager' trend (on both sides of the pond).

  6. I, for some reason, equate "craft" with non-traditional American Lagers and smaller breweries. No matter what Budweiser puts out - I'd have a hard time calling anything craft. But maybe craft should be more biased towards style....

    Coincidentally - another blog I follow had this article today http://thebeerengineblog.com/2013/11/04/bubbles-in-my-beer-pt-3/

  7. This demonstrates all the more that the concept of 'Craft Beer' is highly subjective. To a broad cross section of the general public it broadly equates with 'better quality than X' where X is a familiar commodity brand.

    If the term is going to have any meaning, it should be defined, or a new definition drawn up.

    If it is meant to be based on method i.e. traditional, by hand techniques which is closer to the Oxford definition of 'craft', i.e. foregoing modern industrial techniques, then it is practically synonymous with 'Non Commercial'. Good luck building a business without fermentation temperature control.

    If we follow the Brewdog/CBA (US) definition that craft beer is beer that comes out of a Craft Brewery, that is a useful, though controversial definition. However I think in Europe the horse has bolted the stable on that front, and it would be hard for micro breweries to lay claim to that term.

    It may be possible to define something new, like Independent Craft Brewery as a labelling issue, to address the concerns raised by brewdog/CBA. It is a bit more honest too.

  8. Great post. You selected a nice group, too. (I suspect 100% would have given Tipopils the nod had they known what it was--it's probably too obscure for most folks outside Italy.) It illustrates the regional understanding of the word "craft."

    If I were to add my own editorial comment, it would be this. If Fullers, Budvar, and Sierra Nevada aren't considered "craft," the term is meaningless. Indeed, it IS meaningless, but that further underscores the point.

  9. This voting really surprises me.


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