3 May 2013

Let's talk about what's important


Let's talk about "Premium Beer".

Why are some beers "Premium" while others aren't'? How can we define "Premium"? Is it a matter of ingredients? Is proper "Premium Beer" made with 100% malted barley o are natural ingredients like rice and corn also allowed? And if so, is there a limit in how much of the can be used? Isn't the use of these adjuncts maybe mandatory? Can rice and corn be used to give character to a "Premium Beer" or should they be used only to cut down costs? Is there a maximum or minimum production volume for "Premium Beer"? Does this limit apply to each batch or annual production? How about processes? Can a beer be "Premium" if it's not filtered and pasteurised? Is "Premium Beer" allowed to "evolve" or is it better to mummify it in a bottle or can? And is the can a worthy container of "Premium Beer"? Is "Premium Beer" a prerogative of big brewers or can it be produced by small ones, too? Can it be brewed with passion or only robotically and without any feelings? Must brewers issue a manifesto about the philosophy and spirit behind their "Premium Beer"?

Ridiculous, init? Well, if you think about it, not much more than the constant attempts on this side of the counter to find a definite definition of "Craft Beer". This week alone, there have been two, one in Spain and another one in England. In fact, Pete Brown asks if anyone is still interested in a definition of craft beer. Unfortunately, it seems so.

But I'm in a fairly good mood today, so I decided I would present you with what I believe is a definition of "Craft Beer" that will put an end to all this debate once and for all.

As I was saying on Monday, what we all really want is "Good Beer". All the rest is subordinated to that. We can all agree on that, I believe. When we decide to buy a beer, we don't really do it because of its denomination, we do it primarily because we know we will like it, we have reasons to believe we will like it or we expect to like it. Nobody buys a beer knowing, believing, expecting they will not like it.

In an ideal world, perhaps "Craft" would equal "Good". The sad truth, however, is that this doesn't happen, and never will, ever.

In theory, and still with a great intellectual effort, we could reach a consensus on the meaning of, say, "small". We could even determine what ingredients, processes and technologies may or may not be used to make "Craft Beer", and regulate accordingly.

The problem is that "Good" will always remain an opinion based on a sensory perception, one that can also change at any given moment. And since nobody is wrong when they say they like or don't like a beer, it is simply impossible, even at a theoretical level, to determine consensually what is good and what isn't. Therefore, "Craft Beer" is a label, a brand, and as it happens with every other label or brand, it has been assigned a series of more or less plausible and logical attributes to convince the consumer to buy it.

Taking all this into consideration, I propose the following: a beer (or brewery) is "Craft" when the person that commercialises it so indicates. Very simple, clear and watertight. No room for vague interpretations. For us, consumers, it works wonderfully (what the other side of the counter might think of this is their problem), after all, what we want to buy is "Good Beer" and a beer isn't good thanks to how well its maker fits into an arbitrary definition made up to serve commercial interests; a beer is good because it is (very likely) well made and, first and foremost, because you like it; while a crap beer will still be crap regardless of what is or isn't written on its label.

So, I don't know about you, but I think I'll have myself some "Good Beer".

Na Zdraví!

PS: If some day, while drinking "Good Beer", someone asks you if it is "Craft", answer saying "I don't know, it's good. It's brewed by so and so, here or there". If this person insists on seeing the "craft credentials" of your beer, you will be speaking with someone who doesn't consume beer, but brands. People who consume brands are fools and life is too short to waste time arguing with fools.

5 comments:

  1. It seems the craft-ites have actually given up on trying to define it.

    What they initially wanted when the term jumped across the Atlantic a few years ago was a definition that would include Brooklyn and Mikkeller, while excluding Blue Moon and Innis & Gunn.

    As this is not possible using any objective criteria, they got stuck and are now rather petulantly saying "Well, we don't need to define it!"

    But without defining it you have no way to stop Coors and SABMiller using it to push whatever beers they like. Which is precisely what is now happening. A load of beer geeks have spent years of effort building a platform for marketers to stand on.

    Nowadays I assume anyone who starts going on about "craft beer" is basically pretty clueless about beer. Exceptions prove the rule.

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    1. "But without defining it you have no way to stop Coors and SABMiller using it to push whatever beers they like"

      And there is the futility of it all. Why is it a problem for us, consumers? Despite what some alarmists say, I believe that, by an large, independent brewers are quite a healthy sector of the industry, so we have plenty of good stuff to choose from anyway and if Blue Moon is as good as some people say, then it, and others like it are more than welcome!

      "A load of beer geeks have spent years of effort building a platform for marketers to stand on." So true.

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    2. On a side note, one of the most ridiculous things I've seen coming from Britain was people seriously wondering whether Cask can also be considered Craft. That's a level of stupid you fortunately don't see elsewhere....

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    3. That is precisely the issue. People such as Pete Brown and Boak & Bailey (the "exceptions" I mentioned above) insist that “craft” includes cask, which of course is a reasonable position to take. But that is not at all the way the expression “craft” is actually being used in the wild. It is being used to denigrate cask and other traditional European styles. Every article in the mass media sets up an artificial dichotomy of craft (young, trendy, cool, potential for advertising revenue) vs. cask (old, beardy, cardigans, closed-minded, stuck-in-the-mud). That’s why it’s pernicious and divisive. The same thing is happening with an ideological assault on German beer and the idiotic talk of a “craft beer revolution” there from people like Greg Koch who should know better. Fortunately the craft-ites are too ignorant of Czech beer to take much notice of that.

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    4. The question is, how can something that is a fantasy, or at the very best, a marketing tag include or not something that is very well defined and tangible?

      Is very similar to what happens in countries like Spain. Craft vs Industrial (where the latter is baaad, big corporate, uncultured, evil, full of chemicals and the former is unfiltered, unpasteurised and therefore, alive). And you are supposed to take sides. Some moron in the Spanish version tried to disqualify my opinion saying that I like drinking big brands (which I do, in some occasions BTW).

      The more I think about it, the more I believe that all this "craft" thing is aimed at people who, regardless of what they think of themselves, know little, if anything, about beermaking.

      Another issue in Britain could also be the resentment of the "craft beer" makers. They will never have something like CAMRA to promote their stuff and setting up their own association will not have the same credibility.

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