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. I think the words “craft beer” with­in a year will be as fades and emp­ty as “gas­trop­ub” is today.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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!

  8. 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.

  9. 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.

  10. 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

  11. 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…

  12. 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?

  13. 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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