Ten signs of a craft brewery

Stained glass pub window reading "Stout"

We were pon­der­ing the hard-to-define, much-loathed term “craft beer” again this morn­ing and decid­ed that, rather than a firm def­i­n­i­tion, it makes much more sense to think about indi­ca­tors or signs.

The fol­low­ing list, off the top of our head, is not exhaus­tive and, clear­ly, we’re not sug­gest­ing that any brew­ery needs to be able to tick all ten to be con­sid­ered to be mak­ing craft beer. Equal­ly, some of these apply to brew­eries that, instinc­tive­ly, we would­n’t con­sid­er craft brew­ers.

So, this is just more food for thought, real­ly.

1. They 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 might well pro­duce sin­gle-hop beers or beers which promi­nent­ly fea­ture spe­cif­ic hops. Their choice of hops is dri­ven by some­thing oth­er than the mar­ket. It is possible/easy to find out which vari­eties are used.

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 make beer that makes you say “wow”, not “meh”. (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.

Any oth­ers?

Our wish list for a beer consumer organisation

With var­i­ous embry­on­ic enti­ties pop­ping up to answer the call for a body to cham­pi­on all good beer, regard­less of whether it’s ‘real ale’ or not, here are a few things that we would like to see in a British beer con­sumer organ­i­sa­tion.

1. We want it to be seri­ous, mea­sured and per­haps even a lit­tle bor­ing. We think even the ven­er­a­ble CAMRA fails on this front some­times, allow­ing pas­sion to spill over into bad tem­per. UPDATE: Beior.org in Ire­land seems to get this right.

2. To work con­struc­tive­ly along­side CAMRA. That does­n’t mean nec­es­sar­i­ly always agree­ing with them, but at least get­ting along well enough to man­age joint events or cam­paigns. It cer­tain­ly means that cheap jibes about beards and san­dals are out.

3. A focus on qual­i­ty, taste and the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of ‘good beer’, prob­a­bly through blind taste test pan­els. We would­n’t care if that meant some beers from big brew­eries got the stamp of approval, or if it meant that some small brew­eries get some harsh feed­back.

4. Avoid dis­tract­ing, divi­sive side-cam­paigns – e.g. “drink British craft beer” – and stay out of pol­i­tics. As the beer blo­goshire shows, peo­ple who love beer, when they get off that top­ic, can turn out to have very lit­tle in com­mon. Try­ing to get them to agree on any­thing oth­er than that well-made beer is where it’s at would spell dis­as­ter. Pro­mote good beer and leave it at that.

5. Achiev­able objec­tives. Here’s an exam­ple: reduce the num­ber of pubs in the UK where there is no beer a mem­ber of said organ­i­sa­tion would want to drink. That might mean more cask ale; or it might just mean a bot­tle or two of good beer in the fridge.

We still think, with a bit of cre­ative think­ing, CAMRA could take this on this with­out com­pro­mis­ing its core val­ues but there does­n’t seem to be an appetite to do so, leav­ing a gap in the mar­ket for some­thing else to emerge.

American Craft Beer Week


The gen­tle­men at Hop Talk have kind­ly remind­ed us that it’s Amer­i­can Craft Beer Week.

This set me think­ing about (a) how much I’d like to be able to get hold of more Amer­i­can beer in the UK and (b) what a nice term “craft beer” is.

There’s some­thing a bit sanc­ti­mo­nious about the term “real ale”. And it’s also a very vague term – you need to know a lot more to under­stand what qual­i­fies a beer as “real”. “Craft beer”, on the oth­er­hand, is a qui­eter term, and also tells you some­thing spe­cif­ic about the beers it’s applied to – that they’re “craft­ed”. In oth­er words, some care has gone into their design and man­u­fac­ture.

I’m not both­ered, espe­cial­ly, whether my beer comes from a cask; whether it’s bot­tle-con­di­tioned; or even whether it’s ale.

All I ask is that it shows evi­dence of some­one hav­ing thought about it, tast­ed it, and changed the recipe to make it taste nice or at least taste inter­est­ing. I’ve had plen­ty of “real ale” which did­n’t have much craft in it (a load of pale malt, a ton of fug­gles hops, hand-drawn label) and some which was, as a result, bare­ly drink­able. Equal­ly, I’ve had beers from very big brew­eries which indi­cate that some­one, some­where in the organ­i­sa­tion, still cares about their craft.