You’re Dead to us Now

Some­one who reads the blog and fol­lows us on Twit­ter wrote to us last week. His email began: “Your def­i­n­i­tion of Craft Beer/Breweries I feel is the best I’ve seen in an attempt to clar­i­fy a con­fus­ing sit­u­a­tion.”

Do go on,” we said smug­ly, sit­ting in nox­ious clouds of our own self-sat­is­fac­tion.

At what point is a Craft Brew­er no longer a Craft Brew­er? Can that hap­pen?”

The blood drained from our faces. That is a very awk­ward ques­tion.

It helps if, like us, you don’t think of this as bina­ry, but a ques­tion of degrees. And, as the def­i­n­i­tion of ‘craft beer’ in the UK isn’t (yet) fixed or exter­nal­ly val­i­dat­ed, and if you think it’s a worth­while idea, you need to have your own cri­te­ria.

The more box­es they tick, they more like­ly we are to think they’re a craft brew­ery. By exten­sion, if those ticks are rubbed out, our think­ing goes into reverse.

If Thorn­bridge start using clear bot­tles, or ditch cask ale, or start describ­ing Jaipur only as “a pre­mi­um beer made with the best malt and hops”, we’d begin to have doubts. Brew­dog, for all their attempts to monop­o­lise this ter­ri­to­ry, do lots of things that don’t sound very much like craft brew­ing to us: a few more steps in that direc­tion, and they’re out, at least in our minds.

Final­ly, does it mat­ter if a brew­ery stops being ‘craft’? No. It does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean their beer sud­den­ly tastes bad, or that we hate them, just that our rela­tion­ship changes. ‘Craft’ is not syn­ony­mous with ‘wor­thy’.


32 thoughts on “You’re Dead to us Now”

  1. I’m not sure why peo­ple are get­ting so hung up on how to define “craft”. Its pret­ty much unde­fin­able as a term, much like the phrase “gourmet’ in food. For exam­ple very big brew­eries are able use it as a descrip­tor of their prod­ucts but no-one with­in the small­er micro brew­ing sec­tor takes it as read. Just like McDon­alds can tell us their food is “gourmet” when clear­ly it isn’t it. The term ‘craft’ in the UK is only as valid as the per­son using it, the audi­ence its meant for and the con­text its used in. Defin­ing the term and attempt­ing to give it strict bound­aries is pret­ty much point­less.

      1. I went to that Hes­ton fel­las fat duck was­sit for a gourmet meal with the squeeze. Had to send it back. I said to them “if it’s not got bacon and cheese sauce on it’s not a gourmet meal, pal. I’ve eat­en gourmet food. I know what it is, I have my burg­er gourmet­ed up most times I go to the Spoons”

        Sure enough when it came back out it has the bacon and cheese sauce on. Don’t ask don’t get is what I say. Don’t let the bas­tards rip you off.

      1. A cou­ple of posts on John Smith’s on the way which might help (us, at least) get our heads round that, but we know what is isn’t when we, er, don’t see it.

  2. If it tastes gooood, it’s a win­ner.

    Peo­ple need to start focus­ing on flavour and refresh­ment – who cares if chill­ing a beer on a hot day caus­es a haze – I’d still take it every day over a tep­pid pint. Keg can also be more awe­some than any cask. A good beer does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly turn bad just because of its for­mat, tem­per­a­ture or scale of pro­duc­tion.

    There’s far too much snob­bery in the craft beer indus­try in the UK, which is mak­ing the recruit­ment of younger drinkers a much slow­er process than it should be.

    The US have got it spot on. UK mar­ket­ing has got bet­ter but still needs to step up a notch to start turn­ing heads, and opin­ion for­m­ers need to take their heads out of their ars­es and start focus­ing on the prod­uct, rather than blind­ly sup­port­ing the under­dog and con­stant­ly feel­ing the need to but beers into a ‘box’.

    I’m all for craft beer by the way 🙂

    1. I am sor­ry but I am not sure you can claim that there is too much snob­bery in the UK brew­ing scene and then that the US has got it spot on – the Amer­i­can craft scene is rid­dled with snob­bery, the dif­fer­ence being that it is a snob­bery based on being trendy, gim­micky and hip­ster­ish (not sure that’s a prop­er word but you get the drift). Not to men­tion the whole “Sam Adams aren’t craft any more brigade”, which basi­cal­ly trans­lates as being “you are a suc­cess­ful com­pa­ny there­fore you must be evil”.

      1. Al – we’re begin­ning to sus­pect that snob­bery is the wrong word for talk­ing about beer, full stop. Elit­ism, exclu­sive­ness, snot­ti­ness, but per­haps not snob­bery.

        Dap­perT – we blind­ly sup­port under­dogs (for a while, any­way); and most com­men­ta­tors, as far as we can see, list beers from big pro­duc­ers among their favourites. Con­sid­er­ing some beers craft and some not, as per our last para above, does­n’t mean writ­ing off every­thing’s that’s out­side that box.

  3. How about a nation­al “craft” coun­cil to deter­mine this thing?

    Avery, Dredge, Cole & Brown and any oth­ers suf­fi­cient­ly beery cheery.

    Every week we get to see what’s on or off the list.

  4. How about using newslet­ters and meet­ings from an orga­ni­za­tion based on a hier­ar­chy of com­mit­tees with an incred­i­bly com­plex set of pro­ce­dur­al rules and reg­u­la­tions that both encour­ages and deters inter­est propped up by a dis­count card sys­tem? Naah… that’ll nev­er work.

  5. Recent­ly I’ve heard a few peo­ple round these parts claim that Thorn­bridge are not “craft” (or not a prop­er brew­ery at the very least) due to their heav­i­ly com­put­erised, star­ship enter­prise style brew­ery. Not “hand craft­ed” you see.

    Mind you, a lot of those peo­ple appear to have a grudge against Thorn­bridge, or at the very least a clear grudge against the wife of the man who owns Thorn­bridge brew­ery.

    Any­way, back on top­ic, since “craft” is a vapid term that essen­tial­ly means lit­tle more then “beer I like” you could quite eas­i­ly argue that all it takes for a beer not to be con­sid­ered “craft” is for you to dis­like it.

    1. Yes, Thorn­bridge seem to be the vic­tims of some prej­u­dice based on fac­tors oth­er than their beer and the way they make it. We can see them turn­ing into some­thing oth­er than a craft brew­ery at some point – get­ting a bit more face­less, less exper­i­men­tal.

      Tempt­ed as I am to respond in detail to your final para, I haven’t got the ener­gy to repeat the same argu­ments for the Nth time. Suf­fice to say, if you think craft beer is a use­less term, you’re not alone. We do find it use­ful, though, and we’re not alone either.

      1. Some of the anti-Thorn­bridge stuff is from peo­ple who don’t like their beer. Thorn­bridge beer is for the most part pale & heav­i­ly hopped and this does not appeal to all palates.

        This is not helped by most Thorn­bridge pubs hav­ing lit­tle or no guest beer. So if you don’t like very hop­py beer and Thorn­bridge take over your local you might well bear a bit of a grudge. I’ve come across oth­er local brew­ers who despise Thorn­bridge as monop­o­lists who are keen to get oth­ers to take their beer but won’t return the favour.

        The keg thing annoys some peo­ple, although I still main­tain that the price is the main prob­lem, not the qual­i­ty.

        Then there is the pre­ten­tious­ness of some of their mar­ket­ing, best exem­pli­fied by Dada Bar in Sheffield (well worth a vis­it, despite the dread­ful decor)

        And then there’s the scan­dals that have hit Emma Har­ri­son this year, even if A4E and Thorn­bridge brew­ery are unre­lat­ed.

  6. A good beer doesn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly turn bad just because of its for­mat, tem­per­a­ture or scale of pro­duc­tion.

    That ‘nec­es­sar­i­ly’ makes this a mean­ing­less state­ment – a lead weight does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly fall to the ground when you drop it. But if you meant that a good beer is, gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, just as good in what­ev­er ‘for­mat’ you find it, I have to say that in my expe­ri­ence that’s not true. I’ve had beers from a cer­tain shy and retir­ing Scot­tish brew­ery in all three ‘for­mats’ – cask, keg and bot­tle – and the cask was in a dif­fer­ent league from the brew­ery-con­di­tioned ver­sions; the keg was OK, the bot­tle was fine, the cask was superb. In fact it’s only because I’ve had their cask beer – although it looks as if I nev­er will again – that I pay any atten­tion to that brew­ery at all.

    1. And I’ve had the reverse of that: favourite nor­mal­ly-keg beers which have total­ly lost their charms on cask. Even when prop­er­ly con­di­tioned and served fresh.

  7. Dap­per T said “Keg can also be more awe­some than any cask.” Care to put a per­cent­age on that – like for like – same beer – dif­fer­ent for­mats?

  8. I hate this new mar­ket­ing term ‘craft beer’. I hate it as much as I hate the term ‘real ale.’ Craft beer could mean any­thing or be used by any­body to mean noth­ing. ‘Bot­tle Con­di­tioned’ I under­stand and I know where ‘Cask Ale’ is stored.

    It would very lib­er­at­ing to reclaim the term ‘beer’!

    1. It would very lib­er­at­ing to reclaim the term ‘beer’!”

      Yes! I’ve said this for a long time. Call that oth­er stuff “crap lager” or “crap ale” or some­thing, what this stuff is is prop­er beer. Let the mass­es learn.

  9. I won’t haz­ard an opin­ion on the def­i­n­i­tion of a UK craft brew­ery, but I will say this: the def­i­n­i­tions are coun­try-spe­cif­ic. Brew­ing tra­di­tions and cul­tures vary wide­ly and they amount to apples and oranges for com­par­ison’s sake. When the US got down to 80 brew­eries around 1980, every one of them was a behe­moth. Almost none were small­er than mil­lion-bar­rel brew­hous­es, and they all, with­out excep­tion, made light lagers. When craft brew­ing came to the US, it entered a world very dif­fer­ent from the UK. In the US, we can con­trast the two not only on size, but beer types and qual­i­ty. But if you com­pare a Thorn­bridge Lord Marples to a bit­ter from a tra­di­tion­al brew­ery, you’re pars­ing things in infin­i­tes­i­mal degrees.

    Bel­gium, France, Czech Republic–the word “craft” will mean dif­fer­ent things in each coun­try.

  10. Gosh, does it mat­ter, espe­cial­ly as GK are heav­i­ly using the word craft­ed in their PR? I’m off to have a beer.

    1. Not to you, but it does to us.

      EDIT: or, to be a bit more con­struc­tive, if we only wrote about things of great import, this blog would­n’t exist…

    2. Hmm, I see I left this screen open for the past hours and now there’s a new provo­ca­tion.

      One oth­er thing that is very dif­fi­cult to tease out is this. Greene King are wide­ly despised in the UK’s craft-brew­ing community–if the com­ments I heard from fans and brew­ers were any indi­ca­tion. And yet, GK has one of the most tra­di­tion­al, hand-crafty brew­ery in Eng­land. It’s WAY less auto­mat­ed than Thorn­bridge, which looks iden­ti­cal to every brew­ery I’ve seen in the US (I vis­it­ed both).

      In the UK, busi­ness mod­els and size seem to be the cen­tral fac­tors in decid­ing whether a brew­ery is craft or not. We can’t con­ceive of brew­eries like GK in the US, so it’s not part of the equa­tion.

      1. Jeff – GK fas­ci­nate us. Though we don’t real­ly like any of their beers, though they use clear bot­tles for every­thing, though they are pur­vey­ors of much mar­ket­ing bull­shit, we can’t write them off. They age beer in vats and blend it! They cask con­di­tion! It would­n’t take much for them to be a very admirable brew­ery indeed.

        Size not such an issue for us, though it’s a work­ing def­i­n­i­tion we could live with.

  11. Craft beer is “beer with a dis­tinc­tive flavour brewed by arti­sans”.

    So says the CAMRA AGM.

    And who’s to argue with CAMRA 😉

    And, to have my twopen­neth­worth on the Thorn­bridge Exam­ple: they still brew on the small kit for the exper­i­men­tal beers. And just because one brew­ery plant involves less man­u­al labour than the oth­er does­n’t make it any less­er.

  12. I want­ed to tell a freind about places like Sheffield Tap, North Bar and Port Street Beer House, and I found myself using the phrase “craft beer bars”. I did so because none of the 3 are real­ly what my friend, with his some­what tra­di­tion­al ale drink­ing out­look, would describe as pubs. They are too mod­ern in con­cept and cru­cial­ly have too wide a range of none cask prod­ucts to fit a tra­di­tion­al pub def­i­n­i­tion. To me, they are one of a “new­er” type of beer drink­ing venue…

    So per­haps , sub­con­cious­ly, craft only means new in my mind, which is a sub­jec­tive assess­ment. So maybe, in apply­ing my own cri­te­ria as above, I have man­aged to arrive at pre­cise­ly the same def­i­n­i­tion of craft as your­selves B&B?

    Except that, since there is noth­ing new about doing any of the things that “Craft brew­ers” (appar­rent­ly) do, for instance keg, brew­ing beer influ­enced by Euro­pean or Amer­i­can beer style, or expen­sive bot­tles; using craft to mean new ren­ders the term disins­gen­u­ous.

    It would seem there­fore that Craft’s fail­ing as a term is its very flex­i­bil­i­ty – as demon­strat­ed by the 35 def­i­n­i­tions post­ed thus far. Maybe cask, keg, bot­tle and brew­ery are best in the end.…

  13. too wide a range of none cask prod­ucts to fit a tra­di­tion­al pub def­i­n­i­tion

    I’ve been in pubs with a very wide range of non-cask prod­ucts – Car­ling, Carls­berg, San Miguel, John Smith’s, Guin­ness, Guin­ness Extra Cold…

  14. Doh.

    I meant in the con­text of my ale lov­ing freind though. He would­n’t want to go in a cask free pub, but I con­cede that my choice of phrase made it look like only pubs sell­ing real ale are tra­di­tion­al, which the Duke of York at Leysters and thou­sands more dis­prove.

    I would be too ashamed to tell you how long I laboured over my response, and tried not to men­tion real ale pubs (more absurd giv­en that I then removed the rea­son for not using the term). And I spelt disin­gen­u­ous wrong.

    Most dis­ap­point­ing.

  15. It’s an excel­lent ques­tion, because I fluffi­ly had a con­cept in my mind of what craft meant, but I could not in any way define it.

    As you say, it does­n’t seem to hang on any one item. My favourite Aussie beer is Lit­tle Crea­tures and many would describe them as a craft brew­er yet they are build­ing a A$60 mil­lion brew­ery in Mel­bourne. They will still bot­tle con­di­tion and I do believe the beer will con­tin­ue to taste excel­lent but if craft meant small, you would rule them out.

    Per­son­al­ly, I would not sweat over a dic­tio­nary def­i­n­i­tion. If some­one I know talks about a craft beer, it gives me an indi­ca­tion that I am going to drink some­thing that has pos­si­bly been giv­en a lit­tle bit of thought and giv­en some care in the prepa­ra­tion. I am hap­py to leave it as a wafty (orig­i­nal­ly auto­cor­rect to warty, god help us), unde­fined term. Does­n’t mean that I don’t think it is an impor­tant mark­er, but I do think it’s too much of a will-o-the wisp to pin down.

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