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.