You can’t help but notice that the big breweries are now clamouring to launch their own “craft beer brands”, either by resurrecting old recipes much as Worthingtons did with their White Shield beer a few years ago (and a very nice beer it is too) or by marketing new beers as being from their “craft or experimental” brewery.   We’ll tackle the old chestnut of what is craft beer first, nobody really knows, it can be both keg and cask, of all styles and tastes, made by a 2 brew capacity micro brewery or a company like Brewdog which has 53,000 pint capacity plant.  All we can say it that it is the ethos under which it is brewed, the development of new beers, experimenting with flavours, not with the initial idea to make this a large scale production (although as we see with Brewdog, some beers do reach that level), but to make a good beer people will enjoy and you can make a profit on, in the end this is business still.

Look at two breweries in Huddersfield, Magic Rock and Mallinsons.   The former is definitely known for being a craft brewery, the later is known for making really good ales.  Once you are at the pump, what is the difference, lets be honest not a lot, the craft beers might tend to be stronger in ABV, use more unconventional brewing ingredients, be more heavily hopped or be more aggressively branded to stand out more on the pump, effectively shouting out “look at me”.  Good beer is good beer and you drink what you like and on a session if you are like me you will generally mix between the more interesting beers tempered with really good session beers.   One is not better than the other in the grand scheme of things, but one may suit your drinking mood for the occasion.

But big brewery can’t do craft beer, it’s not in their ethos.  Their ethos is to produce and sell as much as you can to maximise profit on the venture.  They may call it craft, but this is an intentional attempt to jump on the fast moving bandwagon and the people watching that wagon can see companies like Greene King and Guinness hanging on by its fingertips destined to fall to the road sometime soon.  Lets look at Greene King, their keg craft range is 5 strong, compromising of a Double IPA, American Style Pale Ale, English Craft Lager, Craft Pilsner and a Copper IPA.  The first two styles are some of the most common craft beer styles, but the last three styles could fall into both the craft and real beer camps (I intentionally use the word beer as it includes Lager and Pilsners).

The fact is that a genuine craft beer is aimed a people who enjoy beer, that is the only criteria, be they 18 or 80 and what they do for a living.  Greene King includes notes on who to aim at and pricing, frankly it is cringeworthy.   Their target audience is “Affluent 25-40 year old young professionals. Trend-setting early adopters with a work hard, play hard attitude to life.” and when it comes to pricing “Customers are willing to pay more for interesting, small batch beers, using the finest ingredients from around the world.”.  So they are basically saying to target money rich young people with few commitments and fleece them for all you can.  Craft beer is about the beer not who will pay the most for it to improve your bottom line.  Does this surprise me regarding Greene King?  Does it hell!  Its all about the money with no soul attached.

Guinness I am less cynical about (to be honest I’d if the world blew up tomorrow, at least we’d get rid of Greene King beer), they have launched their Dublin Porter and West Indies Porter.  Firstly they are staying within the realm of beer they are known for, not going for the scatter gun approach of Greene King.   I may not be a fan of their core product, but their imported Nigerian and West Indies export stouts I’ve previously tried from specialist shops have been drinkable and enjoyable.  The key difference for me is, yes they are using the craft label, but not at every opportunity.   They place the products in their “Premium Ale” category when it comes to market sector, and I cannot disagree with this one bit, that is what it is.   The craft wagon will move on, Greene King will end up moving some of their “craft” beers into the main range, whilst Guinness will sell these exactly as they define the target market sector.

Maybe “Craft” for these companies means trial runs of beers to see if they can move into the main range, and thus the term is used falsely.