buying beer

Craft Beer as Retail Category

When high street wine retailer Oddbins sent us a press release announcing a 179% increase in sales of craft beer in their stores during the last year, we immediately wondered how they were defining the term.

Oddbins own-brand craft beer.For retailers, this isn’t a purely academic question: they just want to keep track of whether people are buying whatever the hell craft beer is, and whether they should invest more in it in 2014.

(Wouldn’t it be interesting if Oddbins became the first national chain of high street craft beer shops? As it is, they’ve decided to get into the brewing game with an own-brand ‘collaboration’ beer, pictured left.)

Anyway, here’s what we gleaned from a few email exchanges with Oddbins’ PR people and head office staff:

1. The opposite of ‘craft beer’ is ‘mainstream beers’, which list includes  Hoegaarden, Spitfire, Bishop’s Finger, Hobgoblin, Stella Artois, Fosters, Peroni, Nastro Azzurro, Becks and Corona.

2. They believe ‘craft beer’ must be local, and so even some beers they consider non-mainstream are not included in their ‘craft beer’ category, e.g. Septem, Fix and (this is where the fault-line might lie) Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

3. Here’s their rather mission-statement-like definition in full: ‘… brewed by relatively small brewers and cider producers, local to our shops, who make beer or cider of outstanding quality with passion and integrity’. It won’t stand up to much challenge in a debating hall — ‘If a customer returns a bottle because of lack of passion, do you give refunds?’; ‘How much passion is there in your cash-in own-brand craft beer?’ — but it gives them something to work with.

4. These are some of the brewers whose beers they think are in the ‘craft’ category:
5 Points
Art Brew
Bristol Beer Factory
By the Horns
Celt Experience
Cheddar Ales
East London Brewing Co
First Chop
Fyne Ales
Innis & Gunn
Joe’s Cider
Liverpool Organic
London Fields
Long Man
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Old Dairy
Once upon a Tree
Pressure Drop
Red Willow
Rocky Head
Sunny Republic
Tickety Brew
Vale Brewery
Wild Beer
Windsor & Eton
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Innis & Gunn might be the most controversial inclusion — few geeks have much time for what they (we) see as a range of novelty beers with nice labels. On the whole, though, it’s the kind of thing we’d expect to find if someone told us a shop up the road was selling ‘craft beer’.

There is some kind of discernible shape there in the fog.