Thursday, May 3, 2012

Let's Stop Calling It "Craft" Beer

The term "craft beer" annoys me.  I wrote part of this diatribe a long time ago, but since a lot of beer friends have headed to San Diego this week for the Craft Brewers Conference, it reminded me that I think it's a silly term.  Why?

  • The Brewers Association promulgates a definition of "craft brewer" that excludes Widmer's parent company -- the ironically named Craft Brewers Alliance -- while including three larger breweries with similar product lines.  The reason?  Anheuser Busch owns a large stake in CBA.
  • On the other hand, the Gambrinus Company -- parent company of Bridgeport, Shiner, and Trumer -- makes the BA's list of "craft brewers".  All right, Bridgeport fits in with what people think of as craft beer, but Trumer?  Everything from Shiner?  I say that with love in my heart -- Shiner Bock was the first beer I loved, and I will always love the Spoetzl Brewery and its beers.
  • Many perfectly fine imported beers would fail the BA's size or ownership tests:  Spaten, Guinness, and Hoegaarden to name a few.
  • Look at wine connoisseurs.  Do they talk about "craft wine"?  No.  They know there is good wine and bad wine, and it's clear from the context which kind they are talking about.
Lots of people have already made these points or similar ones about the term "craft".  I'm not claiming any originality here: Brian Yaeger had a good rant last year when he said I hate "craft beer"; a few months later Jeff Alworth slyly asked Is This Craft Beer? about some lovely bottles from Goose Island, which was thrown off the BA's craft brewer list after being bought by Anheuser Busch themselves.

A comment by Vasili Gletsos (now the Laurelwood brewmaster) on Jeff's post captures the matter so perfectly that it can't be paraphrased, and has to be reported in its entirety:

To me, the term is most useful as a historical movement to describe the resurgence of smaller breweries in a post-prohibition environment. We are now in a post-craft environment in which there is a wide variety of business models and ownerships in addition to a great depth of beer styles and experimentation.

"Post-craft environment":  what a great phrase. Let's move on and just talk about "beer" from now on.  If you need a word to distinguish beer from mass-produced macro-lager, turn the tables and call the latter "crap beer" as Brian suggested in his post.

Who cares how many barrels are produced, or what company owns a stake in the brewery?  If the beer's good, drink it. If it's bad, complain.


  1. I recall you mentioning this post had been fomenting for over a year at this point. I'm currently smitten with Lewis Black's tirade against commercialized artisanism

    It's as if all the commodities are piggybacking off "craft" brewers and "small-batch" producers of every ilk because they're losing market share and people are finally beginning to wake up en masse to the difference between craft and crap.

  2. I'm down with this. Evaluation on a product should come from the quality of that product and the values expressed through the production of that product.

    By that last I mean: I buy things from local farms instead of the mega mart when I can, because the local farms are producing food in a manner that jibes with what I'd like the world to be like.

    As opposed to factory farms, which generally don't.

    If AB is making a beer I like (and let's face it, they're smart enough to produce something different and good if they wanted to) then awesome. I'll get it, so long as I feel confident that they aren't destroying the planet in order to give me beer.

    If that makes any sense.

  3. For the most part, I agree strongly with the idea that we should simply enjoy "beer" and not worry about "craft."

    Really, for most of us beer lovers, "craft" is no longer anything more than a handy way to distinguish between adjunct american lagers and most everything else.

    Nevertheless, it has become such an ingrained part of the industry that it is nearly impossible not to embrace it in some form or fashion. I use it for the tag line of my blog: "Craft Beer Enthusiasm." When coming up with the name, logo, etc for our beer week (going on now), I advocated for "Missoula Beer Week," but we went with Missoula Craft Beer Week because our test subjects liked it better.

    So while I consider myself part of the camp who no longer needs to call it craft beer, I'll admit to being part of the camp who continues to do so.

  4. Another wrinkle in this debate--if there's any debate left--is how "craft beer" is rendered in other countries. Boak and Bailey recently had a post on this, and the UK definition is idiosyncratic and unlike anything we have here. (I think you have to be a new brewery, partial to keg, not cask, and love hops--or something.)

    God knows what a German would make of it.

  5. Good comments, all. And Alan, I occasionally slip up myself and call it craft beer. I have also caught Brian using that term, though in fairness he is using it in a crassly commercial way ;-)

    @Jeff: I remember meeting a German beer fan in Portland a few years ago. He was just spitting mad about the state of German beer, saying how bland and boring it was. Which is surely an overstatement, but also a delicious irony since during the dark post-Prohibition decades German imports to America played a major part in keeping a small flame of appreciation for full-flavored beer burning here.


Thanks for leaving a comment! I will delete spam and long stupid comments. Comments that are smart or short will survive.

Please tag anonymous comments with your name, initials, or CB handle so that people can respond to you.