Thursday, August 27, 2015

Buy Definition

There's an interesting piece in the Grauniad this morning going by the title 'Can craft beer really be defined? We're about to find out'. When I saw a link to it pop up in my Twitter feed, as I follow both the author of the article and the Guardian, I almost groaned at the thought of yet another attempt to define the undefinable, a task which is becoming the post-modern equivalent of answering the question of how many angels can stand on the end of a pin. But I decided to read the article anyway, and have some milk of magnesium on hand for the expected attack of indigestion.

The article is mostly about the newly formed United Craft Brewers trade association or whatever they want to call themselves, and raised a few points I'd like to address here.

One of the things I did not know about UCB is that there is a "a ban on third-party contract brewing; no-membership for “small breweries” that are owned / funded by multinationals". A ban on 'third-party contract brewing'? Really? This group of punk brewers (sic) think they have the right to tell businesses what they can and can't do to further their business? Does this 'ban' relate only to having third parties brew their beer or also to them brewing beer for a third party? As the author of the article points out BrewDog, one of the breweries driving this association are doing contract brewing for Stone. The author calls this arrangement a 'one off stunt' but it smacks more of outright hypocrisy, I guess though as long as the beards and lumberjack shirts are out in full force then it is an ironic thing and thus perfectly ok. Oh and I guess Mikkeller won't be brewing with brewers that are part of UCB anymore then, since 'gypsy' or 'cuckoo' brewing is just glorified contract brewing.

There is also a ban on small breweries being owned or funded by multinationals? How does one describe a 'multinational'? Take the simplest view and it is a corporation that owns businesses in multiple countries, kind of like, well, erm,....BrewDog will be once they open up their new brewery in Ohio. So you can't be a craft brewery and be funded by a multinational, but you can be a craft brewery and a multinational seemingly. Glad that got cleared up then.

The author then mentions that one of the worries of this organisation of so-called 'small breweries' is that 'Loads of big breweries are piling into the sector with sub-standard beers that trade on the language and design of craft. They are cashing in on a scene they did nothing to cultivate and exploiting a cachet they have not earned.'

Now, this is a bit, and pardon my French, fucking rich. The craft sector is awash with sub-standard beers already, quality control not exactly being something many seem to think about while they are cashing in on the craft beer bubble. Also what nonsensical shite is this phrase that the big breweries are 'cashing in on a scene they nothing to cultivate'? Without the big breweries there would be no craft beer. Big breweries are at the very epicentre of craft beer, a constant reference point for craft breweries, the always handy straw man for many a craft brewery's marketing. Oh and better not mention that plenty of the better 'craft' breweries are staffed by people that cut their teeth in the big evil brewing corporations and thus have an appreciation for quality control, which is one reason they make better beer than Joe Homebrewer following his 'passion'.

Thankfully the author states that 'I cannot help but think that any attempt to define craft beer is a retrograde step'. Absolutely spot on, 100%, nail on head.

Finishing up his article, the author asks the following questions:
Will some breweries knockout ersatz craft beers? Of course. Will some people be fooled by them? Naturally. But only until they try the genuine article, which, given the unprecedented growth of craft beer, is only a matter of time.
I am sorry, but the delusion of saying some people will be fooled by 'ersatz' craft beer and that only when they drink the 'real' thing, something the author says is impossible to define, will they see the light is just plain daft. Given the third rate brewing standards of many of the newer craft brewers, the drinking public is probably better off drinking 'ersatz' craft beer rather than the real thing until the new craft brewers learn to incorporate quality control standards into their processes.

There is a saying that does the rounds about life being too short to drink crap beer, perhaps it should be life is too short to drink whatever everyone else thinks you should. Drink what you like, with people you like, and your life will be all the richer without the mind numbing arcana and navel gazing of wondering if the beer in your glass is 'real craft'.


  1. Really? This group of punk brewers (sic) think they have the right to tell businesses what they can and can't do to further their business?

    Well, no. They think they have the right to tell people what they can and can't do if they want to be part of their club.

    TBH, I think it's in our interests as the drinkers to ignore what the brewers do in their societies and alliances and press releases and statements, and judge them solely on their beer.

  2. And of course no member of UCB has ever contracted out any of their own production. Perish the thought!

  3. Why "smacks of" hypocrisy? It's pure hypocrisy, with a side order of bullshit.


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