When we say ‘craft beer’ we mean…

JUNE 2014

Craft beer


1. A deliberately vague catch-all term for beers which are perceived by enthusiasts as having ‘character’ or being ‘distinctive’, regardless of whether they are to their taste. Inclusive of ‘real ale’ (See chart, below.) Has its origins in the work of Michael Jackson in the late 1970s. Popularised by, among others, Vince Cottone and Roger Protz.

Diagram: craft beer, real ale and 'keg'.

2. In the UK, used to describe a ‘movement’ arising from c.1997 onwards which rejected not only ‘mass-produced’ beer but also the trappings of established ‘real ale’ culture. Brewers aligned with this ‘movement’ will probably produce kegged beers, and may even dismiss cask-conditioned beer altogether. As much about presentation, packing and ‘lifestyle’ as the qualities of the product.

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JULY 2013

This is going to need updating soon as our thinking has moved on quite a bit since we wrote it in 2011. When the book is done, probably.


The purpose of this page is to save us the trouble of explaining what we mean each time we use phrases like ‘craft beer’, ‘good beer’ or ‘craft brewery’. We find those phrases useful even if others find them irritating, or rail at their imprecision.

This page is likely to change as we have our prejudices challenged and learn more about beer and brewing.

Short version

When we say craft beer, we mean a group of beers, including many real ales, which, in our view, are a good thing and deserving of respect.

Calling something a craft beer doesn’t necessarily mean we like the beer in question; just because it isn’t to our taste doesn’t mean it isn’t well made.


This post sets out a list of things which might make us feel warmer towards a beer or brewery and thus consider them craft beers or ‘craft brewers’. We’ll use that as a starting point for a new list here.

Craft breweries and craft beers will have some of the following characteristics.

  1. They’ll use malts like Maris Otter or even Plumage Archer because they want a particular flavour in their beer, rather than higher-yielding, cheaper varieties. This fact is mentioned on the packaging or on the website.
  2. They’ll produce single-hop beers or beers which prominently feature specific hops. Their choice of hops is driven by something other than the market price of hops. It is possible/easy to find out which varieties are used and in which forms (extract, whole leaf, pellet).
  3. It is easy to find out where the beer is made — ideally because it is mentioned on the packaging. It does not pretend to be from somewhere else. (I.e. Belgium, Denmark, Newcastle.)
  4. The brewers have their names and/or faces on the website or packaging. There are identifiable individuals making the beer. They might even be contactable on Twitter or through their own blogs.
  5. They lager or age beer for extended periods even though it’s expensive to do so.
  6. Their beers have vintages and change from year to year: they are not entirely focused on consistency.
  7. There are signs of innovation led by the brewers rather than marketers or management.
  8. The brewers are the management.
  9. They brew beer that makes you say “wow”, not “meh”, or “not bad”. (A beer can be 3.8% abv, brown and hopped with Goldings and still make you go “wow”, by the way.)
  10. They make a dark beer: they haven’t ceded this ground to Guinness.
  11. They don’t use clear bottles.
  12. They make cask- or bottle-conditioned beer.

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