Thursday, 10 February 2011

What is Craft Beer?

Mark over at Pencil and Spoon has suggested that beer bloggers put their thoughts on screen about craft beer, not having joined in a group blog before this seems a good place to start the topic being close to my heart.

"I like to drink Craft Beer" is a phrase I find myself saying on a fairly regular basis. The question I will try to address here is what exactly is craft beer? and specifically what is craft beer in the UK.

My love of craft beer was ignited a few years ago on a trip to the North America when I had my first taste of Dogfishhead beer in a bar in Toronto. Craft beer is a standard term in the US, so how do the Yanks define it?

An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.
Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.
Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

So small, independent and traditional, would this be viable in the UK?

Size, I suspect 6million barrels covers just about every non multinational British beer manufacturer but could this not be rescaled to be appropriate.

Independent, well yes fine but I think most people who know would consider Stuart Howe at Sharp's to be a brewer of many fantastic craft beer products (we can skip over Doom Bar) but no more with this definition.

Traditional, well not 100% sure how this definition works. Does it mean for example that that someone who used a small percentage of torrified wheat for head retention in their beers would be discounted as it does not enhance the flavour? However in general I agree with this.

Not too bad a match, however my problem is that there are many average, under hopped, generic beers that would fall into this category, these average beers are not what I would consider craft beers. Anyway I guess my point is that it is difficult to nail down a definition, it is a very subjective matter and does not fit well with hard and fast rules.

So what is craft beer to me?

  • The passion and love a brewer puts into his art.
  • A commitment to excellence when brewing every beer.
  • The sense of excitement about trying a new seasonal or one off brew.
  • Adding that extra Kg of hops, even thought it will reduce profits, to make the beer better.
  • The ability to change a well respected and successful recipe because you think you can make it better.
  • The experimentation with different styles and use of different influences to combine to make something unique.
  • The use of the best ingredients regardless of where they are from (a late edit due to this blog).
Craft beer is good beer. If you like it just drink it and don't argue about what it is called or how it is dispensed.