It seems to us that we might have entered a new phase in which craft breweries (def. 2) are explicitly in competition with each other, rather than at war with Big Beer.
That thought was prompted by the announcement by London brewery Brew By Numbers (AKA BBNo) that they are going to include bottled-on dates on all their hoppy beers from now on.
We think this is a laudable move — the more information the better — even if we’re not wholly convinced by the fetishisation of beers that have to be consumed within eight minutes of leaving the brewery, at great inconvenience to distributors and outlets.
But why are they doing it? We’d guess it’s because, in a market where lots of breweries — lots of London breweries, even — are making beer similar to and (give or take) as good as Brew By Numbers, they need to do something to stand out. This isn’t about looking better or more interesting than, say, John Smith’s, or Carslberg — that battle is won — but about competing with Beavertown or Five Points.
The same perhaps goes for Manchester’s Cloudwater whose wonderfully transparent recipe development process isn’t a challenge to AB-InBev but to the other cool kids, and especially to those who were cool a decade or more ago.
When BrewDog came along raging at both Big Beer and the CAMRA-affiliated bitter-brewing microbrewery fraternity (you can debate the sincerity of that rage amongst yourselves) they could score points easily: it didn’t take much to seem fresh. But nowadays, it requires a big gesture, like publishing all their recipes in a free e-book, to maintain their dominant position.
All this might be good news for consumers — more transparency, fundamentally better beer quality — but we understand why it might leave some mourning the days when everyone was in it together.
The point is, in 2011, being Well Craft was enough; now, you’ve got to be Crafter then Craft to get noticed. Where will it end?