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beer in fiction / tv

Craft Defined in Other Bubbles

If there’s one thing almost everyone is agreed on it’s that they’re bored of bloggers and beer writers trying to define ‘craft beer’ but, this week, we’ve seen some outsiders (suspicious muttering) having a go.

First, there are updates to the Office of National Statistics’ revised standard shopping basket:

Speciality beer/ale has been introduced reflecting the increase in shelf space devoted to craft beers produced by speciality and micro-breweries…

Elsewhere in the paper, they specify ‘Speciality beer/ale, bottled’ and it’s that last word which gives the key to how they’re defining it, as the other beers they include are:

  • Canned lager
  • Canned bitter
  • Bottled lager
  • Canned stout

So, Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell IPA in a can isn’t craft but Bass No 1, in a bottle, is — right, got it! (It’s a perfectly good working definition for their purposes and reflects a category distinction which most people will recognise from trips to the supermarket with their, er, standard shopping baskets.)

Then, on Radio 4 yesterday, Thomas Thurnell-Read, a senior lecturer in sociology at Coventry University, discussed his paper ‘Craft, tangibility and affect at work in the microbrewery‘ with Laurie Taylor. (Listen here at 16:25; via @waxingbeacons.)

He interviewed many micro-brewers in his research and concluded that one of the key characteristics of ‘craft’ as opposed to industrial brewing is ‘an expression of their identity through the product they are making’.

A common story I had from numerous interviewees was this idea that they could sneak into the pub unnoticed, covert, and watch people consuming the product that they had personally been responsible for producing… Quite a lot of brewers spoke of the doors to the brewery being literally or metaphorically open and their customers would come and knock on their door and tell them how much they like the beer they are producing… 

In the last 30 second of the programme, the host asked Dr Thurnell-Read to explain quickly the difference between ‘real ale’ and ‘craft beer’, and, with a sigh, he did his best:

Real ale is a term coined by CAMRA in the early 70s… the carbonation comes from secondary fermentation… Craft beer is a newer term, it’s a lot more broad, and it involves this kind of thing we’ve been talking about — skill, passion… it’s not necessarily real ale.

What all this suggests is that in (sort of) real world conversations people continue to crave a term that distinguishes Those Beers from These Beers.

10 replies on “Craft Defined in Other Bubbles”

So the office of Nat statistics is basically talking about any bottled ale and presumably some specialist lagers. Their use of the word craft is pointless and can only add confusion. Bottled ale has been steadily growing over the last 25 years ive been drinking and really should have been included in the stats at least 10 ago

To be fair, they don’t actually call bottled beer ‘craft’. They say they’re counting ‘speciality beer’ separately in response to “the increase in shelf space devoted to craft beers produced by speciality and micro-breweries”. I think the underlying argument is that the rise in ‘craft beer’ sales is driving a broader (and larger) rise in PBA sales. Let’s say (plucking figures out of the air) that Proper Craft went from 1% to 2.5% of all non-pub beer sales, while all other PBAs went from 9% to 12.5%. On these figures Proper Craft would still be a small fraction of all PBAs and a tiny fraction of all beer, but that big proportionate increase would represent a big rise in interest in PBAs, driving an overall increase from 10% to 15%.

So, Beavertown Bloody ‘Ell IPA in a can isn’t craft

Or rather, ‘craft’ canned beer is still such a tiny segment of the market (0.1%?) that it’s not worth worrying about.

“an expression of their identity through the product they are making’

Makes you wonder about producers of London murk 😉

That’s a relief – I was quite worried about the effect that craft beer would have on inflation statistics!

That story from our book about Watney’s production brewers admitting to CAMRA’s undercover reporters in the pub that they wouldn’t drink Red themselves because it was ‘shite’ is a good example of alienation.

On the other hand, I have spoken to a number of brewers of so-called “chemical fizz”/”macro swill” who were very proud of their product. How do they fit in to this theory?

Good question.

EDIT: We now have a copy of the full paper which we’ll read ASAP but a quick look at the abstract suggests the point is about an expression of self in the finished product; those brewing to specifications set by, e.g., Anheuser-Busch head office might well be proud of their product, but it isn’t an expression of their personality/creativity. Equally, you might on that basis point to a brewery such as Thornbridge and say that junior brewers turning out an iteration of Martin Dickie and Stefano Cossi’s original Jaipur recipe under supervision aren’t expressing themselves in the product either.

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