We have now started to put the CAMRA vs Craft Keg issue into a short period of hibernation, although it will wake up rather quickly in an angry mood once the results of the working group reach members and the interested general public in a few months time.  It’s time for some peace and harmony in the world of beer.

But this is the real world, and when one fight is put to bed, there are a whole queue of the them just waiting for resolution, and the one which reared its’ head this week is “what can be defined as a craft beer or brewer”.  This is even more subjective that the previous topic.

There are several schools of thought about who can be defined as a craft brewer and what metrics define this area of brewing.  The most obvious start is size, once a brewer reaches a certain size, there is a perceived step into the world of the mainstream brewing, so brewers like Hardknott, Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Little Valley, Bridestones, Halifax Steam, Bare Arts and Brass Monkey would all qualify on this basis.  Brewers the size of Saltaire and Black Sheep would definitely fail this test, while regionals like Ossett would fall into the same category as their larger brothers of being a “good real ale brewery”.

However this test is not watertight, when Brewdog, one of the big names of the craft beer revolution, open their new £6.5 million production facilites in the near future, the production levels could technically push them out of this bracket, but their attitude to the diversity of the beers produced and how they promote their product will keep them firmly as a craft brewer in most peoples eyes.  In the USA, craft beer brewers keep that title despite their production levels rivalling those of some of the smaller mainstream producers, it is the ethos of the brewer that is the defining attribute.

“Craft Brewers” are perceived by some to have a certain attitude, creating more extreme beers, mixing styles and flavours in the face of convention, and cultivating a reputation of being Craft Brewer actively.   However only some craft brewers act in such a way,  Brewdog, Magic Rock, Summer Wine and Hardknott could fall into this definition quite easily.  They are well know as being some of the places to go if you want beers with a high IBU (measure of hop content), a high number of constituent hop and malt varieties or simply a beer with very rich flavours not found in mainstream beer.

Some of the other brewers I have listed, mainly based in Calderdale, all work to produce good beers which are that little bit different, as well as having some more mainstream offerings for the market, but this would fail the “attitude” test if rigorously enforced, so again we have a metric which cannot be reliably enforced.   However we have third test I will present in this article and that is “the brewer” as an public entity in his own right.

Many of the bigger names in the current UK craft brewing scene have the distinction of being directly in contact with their public, not via company press releases, but using social networking tools such as twitter and facebook.  Brewdog James, the owner as well as Martin the brewer uses the site, Hardknott Dave is well known in the twittersphere and Summer Wine James are all known to fans of the beer.  Faces are put to the beers, both praise and compliments become a personal affair when using the 140 characters the twitter platform allows.   But we cannot discount the many other breweries from being “craft” because they do not embrace the digital medium to such an extent.

One thing a craft brewer is not defined by is the choice of brewing vessel, that is irrelevant.   From what I see, deciding who is “craft” by marking them against various criteria is not going to work.  It is a combination of all of the above arguments, the personal opinion of each person, and 101 other factors which decide this.   If we did this as a box ticking exercise, then all the local Calderdale brewers mentioned, excepting Halifax Steam at the Cock of the North possibly would fall short of the qualifying line, which is fundamentally wrong.  I haven’t even discussed the criteria of “availability of product” which could easily include those local brewers due to the relatively limited number of outlets in both bottled and cask / keg form.

Defining the term “Craft” is going to be like trying to catch water with a sieve, as soon as it is defined, that definition will be challenged which itself will also be challenged ad infinitum (or until the next big topic comes along)

  1. Bailey says:

    Beginning to think that the phrase ‘craft beer’ is more important to ordinary punters than industry insiders/beer geeks, just as “punk” was a phrase actual punks didn’t like or use much. Nonetheless, it gave outsiders a handle (no more than that) on something fast-moving and complex, which meant it could be discussed in the media, categorised in record shops, etc..

    Pete Brown’s point on ‘craft beer’ still holds: you know it when you see it.

  2. Velky Al says:

    As Jeff over at Beervana asked though a few weeks ago, where would this put Fullers?

    If “extreme” is the definition then a brewer like Lovibonds would surely fail that test, and yet they make of the best British beer I have had.

    I am convinced that the whole craft vs mainstream side show is precisely that, a peripheral exercise in semantics and hair splitting. Either your beer is good or it isn’t and bollocks to the titles.

    • admin says:

      I agree here, I started this post aiming to define craft beer, and found contradictions at every turn…..it is just a label, and I’m only interested in 2 labels, good beer and bad beer, that way I know what to pick.