As the question is in the air again, here’s our attempt to answer the question “Where did ‘craft beer’ come from?”
A decade or so ago, it seemed as if this was all anyone was talking about – what is craft beer? Is there a better phrase we could be using? Is it meaningless? An Americanism? A con trick?
We enjoyed the debate, formulated an opinion, and have stuck by it, more or less, ever since.
And in our 2014 book Brew Britannia we gave a brief account of the history of the term and how it took hold in the UK, drawing on research by Stan Hieronymus and others.
Since then, we’ve picked up a few extra instances of its use, or similar, and thought it might be helpful to everyone involved in researching and writing about beer to have a timeline at hand.
1883 | “the great craft of brewing” – anonymous, Holmes’ Brewing Trade Gazette, 01/09/1883
1930s | “the craft of brewing” – Worthington Brewery advertising
1934 | “neither an art nor a science, but a traditional procedure” – A. Drinker, A Book About Beer
1946 | “Maybe it can hardly be called a craft in the strict sense, but cider-making is an interesting old country work” – Norman Wymer, Country Crafts
1967 | “Craft Brothers” – Ken Shales, Brewing Better Beer
1973 | “In the last decade, brewing has turned from being a craft industry into a technology.” – R.E.G. Balfour, chairman and MD of Scottish & Newcastle, quoted in What’s Brewing, 08/1973
1975 | “This is all some way from the small craftsman brewer.” – Conal Gregory and Warren Knock, Beers of Britain, via Gary Gillman
1977 | “craft-brewers”, “craft-brewed” – Michael Jackson, The World Guide to Beer
1982 | “A craft brewery down to the last detail.” – Michael Jackson, Pocket Guide to Beer
1983 | “The recent return to the craft brewing of ‘real ale’ as championed by the consumer group CAMRA…” – Elizabeth Baker, the Times, 07/03/1983
1984 | “craft-brewing scene,” “craft brewery”, “craft brewing” – Vince Cottone, New Brewer, 09/1984
1986 | “I use the term Craft Brewery to describe a small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients” – Vince Cottone, Good Beer Guide: Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest [SOURCE]
1993 | “They’re riding on the tails of the craft beer movement” – Steve Dinehart of the Chicago Brewing Company quoted in What’s Brewing 08/1993
1994 | “craft ale” – Ed Vulliamy, Observer, 27/10/1994
1995 | “independent craft breweries” – Roger Protz, Observer, 26/02/1995
* * *
A couple of those are new additions – the 1973 Balfour quote and the 1983 one from Elizabeth Baker.
Our view is this: the phrase ‘craft beer’ is a natural development after a hundred years or so of people talking about ‘the craft of brewing’.
And it’s not really any surprise it beat designer beer and boutique beer because they’re both, frankly, a bit wanky, while ‘craft’, per some of the examples above, has a simpler, more down-to-earth, traditional quality.
Updated 4 April 2020.