The Post Craft World

Illustration: beer on a table.

It is inevitable that, by the time a trend goes ‘mainstream’, those who first championed it will be moving on. And so it is with ‘craft beer’.

2014 is set to be the year of craft beer, with the term ‘craft ales‘ leaking into everyday usage, while Wetherspoon’s, big regional brewers and supermarkets have gone into overdrive slapping the words onto every receptive surface.

So of course the cognoscenti, after some years of grumbling, have begun to reject the phrase outright.

We think it’s partly that they’re just bored of hearing it. They’re certainly bored of the debate about what it means, even as they’re drawn to join in.

It is also, however, gaining some distinctly negative connotations: we recently noticed a former noted craftophile describing a dodgy pint as ‘a bit too craft’ the other day.

Apart from BrewDog, we haven’t spoken to many brewers to whom we would apply the term who like or use it themselves.

In fact, these brewers from New Zealand have suggested an alternative…

Post craft

The elements of ‘craft beer’ people seem to be reacting against are sloppiness, inconsistency and sometimes downright dirtiness. The appetite for novelty doesn’t seem to be diminishing just yet, but there is perhaps now less appetite for bankrolling other people’s playtime: people are beginning to demand cleanness and consistency, and to reward those breweries which deliver it.

Or, to put it another way, people are realising that undisciplined, amateurish, enthusiastic ‘punk’ music is far more fun to listen to than ‘punk’ beers are to drink.

And after that?

The abandonment of ‘craft beer’ by the geeks won’t mean the sudden resurgence of ‘real ale’. Not yet, anyway: we can well imagine, in a few years time, a cutting-edge revivalist movement founded on brown bitter brewed in dodgy old barns, with crystal malt, Fuggles and Goldings.

Everything becomes cool again given time.

The Pub Curmudgeon and Pete Brown have also both considered the ‘craft beer’ trend (or fad) in recent posts.

24 thoughts on “The Post Craft World”

  1. I’ve heard several people use the word ‘drinkability’ recently. What’s the (craft) world coming to?!

  2. Ironically, if I follow your logic, this would move BrewDog not only into the mainstream, but place them firmly behind the curve.

    I don’t think they see themselves that way though.

  3. I think their harping on the term ‘craft’, rather than just doing it, does make them seem a bit uncool.

    The Craft Beer Company might find they have the same problem — building a buzzphrase into the brand is a risky move.

  4. When the dust has settled there will still be good beer and there will still be bad beer. I think the difference will be that good beer will no longer be defined by whatever certain consumer organisations decides it is, it’ll be decided by actual consumers. Good beer will be accepted by consumers in whatever container the brewer decides, whether that’s a cask, a keg, a bottle, a can, a growler or a polythene bag for all I care.

    Removing the snobbery surrounding dispense methods opens up the market to brewers – and who wouldn’t want that? There is nothing I would like to see more than a hard-hitting IPA on tap in my local curry house, or a choice of beers other than J*hn Sm*ths and C*rl*ng at hotel functions – huge markets that are largely closed to ‘traditional’ brewers because of the difficulty of storing and dispensing beer in those environments. With attitudes to dispense relaxing, thanks in no small part to the ‘craft revolution’, small brewers are tooling up to put their beers in containers other than casks, making the possibility of good beer everywhere closer to being achievable.

  5. I have always thought that “craft” would follow the same path as “traditional” in becoming a pretty meaningless marketing tool and that’s what seems to be happening. I have to say that most of the brewers I know don’t seem to take the term “craft” too seriously at all and as you say it is becoming something of a joke term at times.

  6. I think that any “revivalist” movement in beer has to be based on people being positive about tradional beers. When that happens, and we can move on from endless negative “craft v cask” discussions then those beer styles might become well regarded again.

    1. The Londonist is very positive about traditional styles – good old traditional English mead and traditional English lambic…

      But I do agree – and we know that approach can have good results: that’s how porter got rediscovered/reinvented, to say nothing of the new wave of Burtons. Forward to the past!

  7. I was over in the US yesterday and took a definite pass on the experimental stuff – which appears to be where the word “craft” has settled in the UK. Once I read the words “Traditional Belgian Style Stout With…” I could not be bothered to read the rest of the label. “Craft” as US micro (the more common term pre-2003/4) will continue but with plenty of exits and amalgamations and buy-outs on the way. The brewing trade has never been stable with the inherent ease of entry and its messaging has always sought the next idea to present those new entrants as likely more special than the really are.

  8. Well, what with the pooches sticking their heads up again, SIBA discussing it, and new initiatives like craftbeerbrewers.org (as well as the general “mainstreaming”), I wonder if we’re moving away from the discussion being the preserve of amateur internet experts, into a situation where actual professionals are trying to figure something out? A good thing? I dunno.

  9. The term craft unfortunately can be harmful in England in that fine traditional, usually cask, ales can be displaced by newer-style beers, real or not, which aren’t nearly as good in pure palate terms. Ideally, craft should encompass the best of the old and new schools. But marketers wants clear demarcations and kids always want something new, so it’s hard to get the message across.

    Post-craft should be a river flowing from these two tributaries. It may be the ideal way to preserve the best of what craft, micro, revivalist brewing was all about whether Yank or U.K.

    A post-craft era is still needed (in this sense) since the great majority of the market is bland lager. The war hasn’t been won yet, by a long shot.

    Gary

  10. I think the change in terminology (or at least, away from the word “craft”) and the change in drinking habits are kind of different things, if not entirely unrelated. Not least because British craft brewers have been objecting to being described as craft brewers for about as long as people have been describing them as such.

    As far as the changes in drinking habits go, it feels more like a spreading out and blurring of lines than a wholesale shift. There still seem to be as many people willing to take a punt on the latest hot thing straight out of East London as there are loudly announcing that they haven’t got time for any more unbalanced murk and they’d rather just have a Jaipur, or failing that a pint of Pride. Conversely the mainstreaming of craft doesn’t mean that you’ll find your suburban local doing a Pressure Drop tap take-over any time soon – if anything it’s more likely that the most noticeable impact will be your local regional brewer rebranding their seasonal golden ale as a “Postmodern Pale Ale” with a bit of distressed typography.

    It’s all part of life’s rich tapestry…

  11. Was listening to the Radio Four Food Programme Podcast about a resurgnence in Butchery yesterday morning – only to hear Sheila Dillon describe a butchers (which, as it happens, is about a mile from me and been trading quite happily since circa 1960) as a ‘artisanal, craft butcher’….honestly.

      1. Well, I think he’s saying why is there a need to dub an honourble old trade which makes a quality product with a contemporary term? Or what is saying the same thing, if those butchers who don’t change their fascias to read “craft” will be less regarded as a result, isn’t that silly?

        You can say the same for the traditional type of cask ale represented by, say, Fuller’s London Pride or Hook Norton’s Old Hooky. It is all the more exasperating when the new products announcing themselves as true craft in many ways aren’t as good as what came before. Talk about chutzpah.

        In the past, the terms “traditional” or “home” were used to denote artisan quality. These are starting to have a period flavour perhaps, but I like them.

        Gary

        1. Er, because that’s what they’re called. And have been for quite a while. By the industry even. I haven’t researched this much (I can’t be bothered), but the term was well established by the 1950’s ) Which was my point. It would have been a (grammatical) tautology in the days when all butchers were that, but that changed when supermarkets came in, I think. Do you buy meat much?

  12. The term craft was used to describe trades such as butchery and sausage-making in the 50’s? This is possible, in the sense e.g. of craftsmen and following a craft, but the term craft today has acquired a hipster image for lack of a better word and I thought that was what Leigh was getting at, the oddity of it in that context. To me it’s like if you had a local company making jams for generations and then it changed its name to “Confitures de Terroir” or something like that. Anyway we can all agree that butchery in England is an old trade and I hope the old practices continue without seeing sausages and cured meats from other countries replacing the English heritage. Jane Grigson – who knew the French traditions very well – wrote admiringly of the best English traditions in butchery and sausages. She in many ways provided a model for what I feel should apply in beer, where you have a comprehensive understanding of many of the best foreign equivalents, would like to see them available, sometimes, alongside the English ones but not to replace English practices or its native best products.

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