18 Oct 2013

Friday Craft Musings


So the boys at BrewDog are making a serious attempt at a corporate takeover of “Craft Beer”, a public domain brand. According to this press release (sorry, companies don't write blogs) they want to put an official, industry definition:
... firstly to protect craft brewers and what we are building; secondly to guide consumers in this new and emerging category in the UK; thirdly to ensure that true craft brewers can charge a fair and sustainable price for their masterpieces; and fourthly to enable craft beers to grow as strongly in the UK as they have in America.
And the definition they propose is the following:
A European Craft Brewery:
1) Is Small. Brews less than 500,000 HL annually. *see point 3 below
2) Is Authentic. a) brews all their beers at original gravity b) does not use rice, corn or any other adjuncts to lessen flavour and reduce costs 
3) Is Honest. a) All ingredients are clearly listed on the label of all of their beers. b) The place where the beer is brewed is clearly listed on all of their beers. c) All their beer is brewed at craft breweries.
4) Is Independent Is not more than 20% owned by a brewing company which operates any brewery which is not a craft brewery.
I'm not going to comment on these points*. Those who follow this blog will know my opinion already, suffice to say that I agree with some, disagree with others. As I see it, BrewDog want to start their own private club and they will get to decide who will be eligible for membership. Fair enough.

The problem I have, however, is that this definition fails to address the most important concern for us, consumers, quality. None of those four points can guarantee me good beer, or at the very least, well made beer, which is in fact what we all want. Some of the worst beers I've had in my life were made by breweries that fit perfectly into this definition of craft and yet, the beers were rubbish, objective rubbish. They were beers that should have never been poured into a glass, beers that should have never left the brewery and even beers that should have never been made to begin with, but, according to BrewDog's proposed definition they would be able to proudly and officially call themselves “Craft”.

If these people really want to make “Craft Beer” something akin to a certification, then it will have to contemplate quality standards, otherwise, official or not, it will still be just a brand. But I'd like to believe their aim is higher than that, so I suggest the following points, or something along those lines, should be added to the definition:
  • The person in charge of production at a craft brewery must be at all times someone with at least, say, 3 years of professional experience. Start up breweries that don't meet this requirement will have to wait three years, without changing their head brewer, before they can apply for the certification. (I believe that if we can discriminate based on size and ownership, we can also discriminate based on professional expertise.)
  • A craft brewery will apply certified quality control processes, which can be audited at any time by an eventual organisation.
  • Unless sold directly to the public, craft beer can only be sold and distributed by certified vendors, who must also comply with standards regarding conditions of transport, storage, dispensing and training of their staff.
But I feel I'm wasting my time, as I doubt they will ever even consider any of the above, not because of the challenge, but because it has never been about quality, but about protecting their own turf, as BrewDog make it very clear right at the beginning: Why do we need a definition? 3 words: Blue Fucking Moon.”.

You know? I've never drunk Blue Moon, but I would really, really love to. It's been so maligned by some business interests and their brainwashed fanboys, that I'm beginning to get the impression that it's one hell of a good beer, otherwise, why are those business interests so afraid of it? Because, that's what it is, fear. They are afraid that the industrial breweries have decided to make beer that can compete in terms of flavour and image, and they hate that because in one sip it brings down much of the discourse they've been building all these years: big beer = bad – small beer = good.

They tell us we must hate Blue Moon, and other similar beers. Not because of their taste or value. No! We must hate it because it's made by an evil megamultinational corporation that, contrary to the “Spirit of Craft Beer” (I wish I was making this shit up), hide their true identity from the public. Apparently, there are people who actually believe this fairy tale and are convinced that if Molson-Coors would openly admit that they are the ones behind Blue Moon everybody will stop drinking it and would run to the embrace of Craft Beer. Well, let me tell it to you this way:

NOBODY FUCKING CARES!

Really, whether we like it or not, most people do not give a scuba diving fuck about who makes their beers, any more than they do about who makes their I-crap, their jeans or their merchandise t-shirts. People buy a beer because they feel it is good enough to pay for it, and not because they want to make a point (well, some actually might buy a beer for reasons that have nothing to do with the beer itself, but they are a tiny minority).

Is that good? Well, I don't think it is. We should all be more responsible and informed. We should be more sceptical with the things people who want our money tell us. We should question them more, all of them, big and small, because small companies can be every bit as cunts as big ones, corporate size is not in inverse proportion to virtue.

So, stop whining and grow up already! If you make good beer and know how to sell it, you've got little to fear.

Na Zdraví!

*Of course I will comment! If the use adjuncts and and HGB in order to save costs is something to contrary to “craft”, shouldn't the same apply to gimmicky ingredients and processes that only increase prices in a bigger proportion than the additional costs? Just saying.

32 comments:

  1. What if I brew with adjuncts like raw barley, rye or buckwheat and incidentally they cost less than malt? What if I want my beer to be drier and I use sucrose to lighten it, like in any Belgian strong ale? Will I qualify, or should I ask somebody already "crafty" to introduce me to this exclusive club?

    This whole idea is BS. Like most of things from BrewDog which aren't liquid.

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  2. So....not happy with ripping off Stone Brewing's advertising blurb, they have now lifted the Brewers Association's definition of a craft brewery almost word for word. I hate to say it, because I once liked their beers (most of the beers though are kind of derivative and over-priced in a US context), but they really are a bunch of shameless self promoting tossers.

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  3. 'People buy a beer because they feel it is good enough to pay for it, and not because they want to make a point (well, some actually might buy a beer for reasons that have nothing to do with the beer itself, but they are a tiny minority).'

    Not sure about this -- I think people (when they have luxury of sufficient choice and wealth to do so) do make ethical choices when purchasing food and drink, and, for many, choosing 'craft beer' (defined vaguely as local/small) seems, rightly or wrongly, a more ethical route.

    So I can see why Blue Moon bothers people -- because people who want to buy small/local might think that's what it is, when it isn't.

    But generally, yes, I agree with you when you say that brewers shouldn't worry too much: consumers are quite savvy, and big brewers attempting to look like small brewers has pricked the interest of the mainstream press, too.

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    1. I'm speaking in general terms, of course, and I am aware that there is a growing number of people for whom provenance is important, but not nearly as much as quality. One of the reasons why Únětický Pivovar is my favourite brewery is proximity, but it is quality the main reason why I keep on giving them my money. If they didn't make good beer, I wouldn't care how close they are to my home, or even how nice and ethical the people running the company might be, I simple wouldn't buy their products.

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    2. people (when they have luxury of sufficient choice and wealth to do so) do make ethical choices when purchasing food and drink

      The 'sufficient wealth' is key, though, and it immediately means you're talking about a minority - the top 25% of the income distribution, say. It's a market segment...

      for many, choosing 'craft beer' (defined vaguely as local/small) seems, rightly or wrongly, a more ethical route.

      ...and it's a market segment that responds well to appeals to the 'ethical' and 'authentic' (fake that and you've got it made, as they say).

      Points 3 a) and 3 b) are welcome enough, but otherwise there's nothing particularly ethical in there - and, of course, there's nothing in there about quality, let alone honesty or transparency in pricing.

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  4. The industry needs to realize that the word "craft" has been hijacked. I don't know what other word fits the product more appropriately but using automated machines is not "craft."

    Look it up. Craft actually has nothing to do with the ingredients used. It is only about how the trade is plied, which is meant to be exclusively by hand.

    Craft also has nothing to do with volume.

    The so-called "leaders" of the industry do not realize they are kinda heading down a rabbit hole with the bastardization of the word "craft." At some point growth will only come though increased automation (i.e. less employees), hence even further from the truest form of craft.

    I would not follow BA's lead. The word craft was never meant to be a moving target.

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    1. "The industry needs to realize that the word "craft" has been hijacked."

      The word has always been nothing but a marketeering term. It was coined 20 (?) years ago by the likes of Jim Koch (Boston Brewing) and Pete Slosberg (Pete's Wicked) who had their beer brewed under licence at giant adjunct breweries, so that they could cash in on the then-new microbrewery/brewpub phenomenon. I've been rolling my eyes at it for a long time now, and I'm sorry that we Yanks have foisted it upon the rest of youse.

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  5. All interesting points.
    One aspect that is rarely tackled in regard to Brewdog, it has more than a whiff of cult about it? Like the moonies or scientology. Believe in the path of enlightenment and the path has a monetary price.


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  7. Your post hit it almost dead on. No one really cares who makes anything they have, but there is a small percentage who does and that percentage is growing dramatically every year. If having it easily accessible as to who makes a beer can exponentially increase the knowledge of the consumer I am all for it.

    I try to avoid bad beer, and most is made by the macro breweries, but a ton is made by small breweries. That is more often then not why they are still small. If you make a consistently high quality product that you tend to do well. There are exceptions businesses who make a conscience effort to remain small, but for the most part it is either grow or your beer is crap. The sad thing is that it seems to have an upper limit. I am sure Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, Yuengling, etc... were once good beers, but they aren't now.

    P.S. Blue Moon sucks. Don't try it.

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  8. "does not use rice, corn or any other adjuncts to lessen flavour and reduce costs"

    What the UK doesn't need is a Reinheitsgebot. Ron P. argues quite convincingly that just because your beer is "pure" or follows certain guidelines doesn't mean that it is going to be good. And it can definitely stifle creativity.

    Mitch Steele of Stone Brewing worked at Anheuser-Busch for 15 years. He states that the rice used in Budweiser actually *increases* the cost of the beer and they do it for the flavor (which most of us don't like, but it is what it is). The one positive thing that he can say about A-B is that they have a lot to teach the craft world about quality control. The brewers are all top-notch technical brewers. They probably could brew excellent beer that could blow away many second-tier craft brewers, and it just might happen if the bean counters decide that it is a good business model.

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  9. As has been pointed out by Bailey, some people (myself included) do actually care who brews the beer they drink, for example simply because they like to support a local business.
    Some people (again myself included :p) might also choose not to buy beer brewed by people with inflated egos, like BrewDog, simply because they don't like inflated egos.

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  10. Brew Dog. Expensive. Nothing To Shout About. Blue Moon. It,s Alright. Also Not Cheap. Available at University Arms, Sheffield. Supposed to Be Trendy. With Fresh Fruit. Good Blog.

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  11. Real Ale Experts in Sheffield. Yorkshire Area. Have A Problem with My Opinion of Thornbridge Bars, & Beers. I Stand By Them. Beers are Samey. Charge More than Others. Plus Not Something to Get Excited About.

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  12. Excellent post. AFA the discussion of rice and corn as adjuncts goes, I'd like to add that they were originally used in American breweries to solve problems with mashing caused by using native 6-row barley, problems that don't occur with 2-row European barley. (Interestingly, the process was developed in the land of the Reinheitsgebot, in Bavaria of all places.) They weren't used to make the beer cheaper.

    According to the American Brewers Association, the original adjunct brewers in the US were craft brewers. They were family-owned, and, well, innovative.

    "The hallmark of craft beer and craft brewers is innovation. Craft brewers interpret historic styles with unique twists and develop new styles that have no precedent.
    Craft beer is generally made with traditional ingredients like malted barley; interesting and sometimes non-traditional ingredients are often added for distinctiveness."

    It's a wacky world.

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  13. BrewDog and Blue Moon both meet the now-standard definition of craft beer: trendy beer sold to hipsters in urban bars.

    Does anyone else not like the way BrewDog swear in their communications to make themselves sound edgy and cool? I've got no problem with swearing, but theirs is gratuitous and clearly just done for the sake of their image. It doesn't convey an image of maturity. If the brewery's still there in a hundred years will they still be acting like this?

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  14. If the beer is good, it doesn't matter one bit who makes it.
    Not all "craft" beer is good (not by a longshot...and much of it is comically overpriced) and not all "big brewery" beer is bad (some of their 'craft style' offerings actually equal or better the efforts of some of the best small brewers. The only thing that gets in the way is the built in prejudices of a loud but small minded segment of beer fans).

    I would disagree that the term "craft" has been co-opted; I think instead that it has simply become nearly obsolete.

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  15. Glen you just sound stupid saying Sierra Nevada is no longer a good beer. Have you ever visited these guys and seen their attention to detail?

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  16. With respect, you have missed the point. The definition is not, can never be, and was not intended to be a guarantee of quality. The fact that you criticize my proposed definition in that it does not guarantee quality shows a real lack of understanding of the beer industry in general and what I was setting out to achieve with the definition.
    What a definition does guarantee to the drinker is that what they are being sold as ‘craft’ is actually made in a way that conforms (to cite the US example) with an agreed definition of craft approved by an industry body.
    We are not afraid of Blue Moon (we are only afraid of ghosts & spiders). But we do not think it is right they promote themselves as a craft beer. Customers should know, when they are drinking this in the UK, it is shipped over from the US in bulk at 10% after being brewed by one of the largest brewing conglomerates in the world then watered back and packaged in the UK. This is clearly not craft. And Blue Moon should not be allowed to promote themselves as a craft beer as it only leads to the customers being misled.
    And here is some news for you. PEOPLE DO CARE. Although you display all the signs of being callously indifferent others do not fall into this bracket. More and more people care passionately about where what they consume is made, how it is made and who it is made by. This trend is not specific to beer but visible across almost every food stuff. We need to help people who care and ensure they don’t get misled and sold lies. The global big beer industry has built itself by selling lies over the last 50 years, we can’t let them bastardize craft the same way they have bastardized beer in general.
    I think we need an official definition firstly to protect craft brewers and what we are building; secondly to guide consumers in this new and emerging category in the UK; thirdly to ensure that true craft brewers can charge a fair and sustainable price for their masterpieces; and fourthly to enable craft beers to grow as strongly in the UK as they have in America
    @Jarek Zgoda – loads of beers use adjunts – classic wheat beers, Belgian quads and other styles to. What we are against is using adjuncts as a cost saving measure. Carlsberg & Carling are made with 20% + Glucose Syrup. This is a cost saving measure.

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    1. James, I think I got the point quite right, as I say here it has never been about quality, but about protecting their own turf. You would like to have a trade association of sorts, and I don't see anything wrong with that, quite the opposite. It's a shame that definition you propose, just like every other industry definition of craft beer that there's ever been, doesn't even ponder quality a little bit. Which shows that the consumer isn't that important as long as their money ends in the right pockets. Nothing wrong with that, either, mind you. You have a business and the first priority of every business, by far, is making money. If only you (and not only you) refrained from that holied than though bollocks, but it's part of the marketing, init? And it's not going to change as long as it keeps on working.

      I admit that "fear" was perhaps too strong a word, but you do feel a bit threatened by Blue Moon. It really, really bothers and worries you that the big boys have learned how to play in your Craft Beer fairy tale and you really don't know what will come out of it. What if AB-InBev doesn't fuck up Goose Island? What if SAB-Miller or Carslberg suddenly started making face melting IPA's that, thanks to their economies of scale, they could sell cheaper than you? It's a real problem when a villain figures out your game, you have to find another way to keep on vilifying them.

      I'm afraid that MOST people don't care about the provenance of the stuff they buy. Yes, there many who say they do, but just because that's just what all the cool people are saying, but the fact is that they don't care. If they did, nobody would run to buy the latest toy by Apple, nobody would be shopping at C&A, nobody would eat at McDonald's or have a cuppa at Starbucks. If they did, nobody would be buying craft beer at the likes of Tesco, nobody would be shopping at the likes of Tesco to begin with. If they did, Foster's wouldn't be able to get away with calling theirs "Australia's #1 beer". Shit! If most people did care, global brands possibly wouldn't even exist! I don't see it as a good thing, but it's reality.

      Myself, I prioritise small, locally owned businesses (always provided they can give me quality and value), but I'm a pragmatist and a realist and I try to see things from as many different perspectives as possible; and I realise that a small neighbourhood grocery store that only sells big brands is also a small, locally owned business, while a supermarket chain that sells craft beer is still a big multinational corporation.

      Now, from your definition of craft beer, I do agree with #3 almost wholeheartedly (I say almost, because I see c) as rather redundant, but that's my thing). I have long been saying here that brewers should be more transparent with what they do because I believe information empowers the consumer and helps them make better choices.

      As for the rest of the definition. #1 is pointless as it can be easily covered by #4, there can't be that many independent breweries making more than 500,000hl/year. #2 a) is, if your forgive my bluntness, stupid, it only speaks to people who know nothing about brewing, besides, if #3 is complied with, then it should be up to the consumer to choose. In principle, I agree with #2 b), though, if brewers are honest about HGB, then why not? Or are you going to tell me that that there are no craft brewers who do anything that compromises quality only in order to save costs?

      Rather than trying to capriciously and conveniently define a fantasy, what you should do perhaps is to have a code of conduct focused on #3. Consumers who do care about those things, will appreciate it and value it (not as much as quality standards, but it's a good start), and those companies who choose not to abide to it, will do it at their own risk.

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    2. PS: Thanks for your comment, much appreciated, really.

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    3. "The definition is not, can never be, and was not intended to be a guarantee of quality."

      Then what's the fucking point of it? That makes it just a stupid private club that's only open to you and your mates.

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    4. Another way to say it is "the definition is not, can never be, and was not intended to be in the best interest of the consumer.

      Pointless business bollocks, as your rightly say.

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  17. Then just list your ingredients and describe your techniques without the foolishness of an intervening branding definition that suggest small and mid-scale industrial brewing of a globally transported beverage shares more with folksy wee village cottage industry than the neighbouring large scale industrial brewer. We all appreciate the commercial advantage controlling a discourse provides but, really, you ought to expect your audience is a bit more sophisticated than your either your proposed definition or your ad hominem response suggests.

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  18. Even if you don't like my definition, surely we can all agree it is better if all ingredients had to be stated on a label?

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    1. I'd go for that across the brewing industry - that, and place of brewing, including open acknowledgment of contracting-out. No labels or club memberships - just put all the information out there and let the customer decide.

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  19. #1 seems rather random to me. A 500.000HL annual producer in Spain (would be an European Craft Brewer according to the definition if it was to comply the other requirements) could easily be regarded by people who care about this stuff as "industrial". I think the size is too relative.

    I think this definition is just caring about how people sees the product. Creating this labels ("Craft Beer") is just a way to make consumers think positively about it by means of communication (aka marketing).

    I don't know if I'd suggest the same points that Max does, but I'm surely missing too some ways to ensure that quality was sought after.

    Cheers; nice discussion.

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    1. The problem with #1 is that it will sure come to a point where the eventual association will be faced with either punish a brewer for the sin of being successful or to raise that threshold. The former would be unfair and the latter would show how pointless it all is, if you can raise a size limit when you consider it convenient, then why set it up to begin with.

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    2. The latter would actually just show that is 'association' is no different from the Brewers Association and will raise their limit whenever the biggest members need it to.

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    3. Just like when I used to organize a beach football tournament during my teens: the limit was always my age + 1. This way I could always play and was never on the verge.

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  20. James forgot to add to his definition of craft, brewery MUST own a teleport machine like in the film The Fly, so you can amalgamate two classic styles and accidentally produce something horrific like the majority of Brewdog's beer. A classic meld being their AB02 Imperial Weissenbock which was an absolute abomination and costed a fortune.

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  21. You can not put labels on everything. There is only so much you can do in terms of certification. Labek/Certification is one thing, but the story or complex ethical codex behind it is another one. Along with certifications there should be discourse with consumers to take them along the way on about what, why, how you do your 'craft'. I see the same parallel in hijacked term of 'craft beer' and 'speciality coffee'. There are people who try hard to look better than what they really are and use marketing Bs in order to convince customers to buy their crappy products based on some pseudo-ethical certification.
    I agrree with James that some definition could be just useful, but doesnt solve the problem after all. Consumers should be jsut more educated what goes into making great (craft) beer. Once they get that, labels are redundant.
    Also, I think people forget that GREAT BEER is almost exclusively CRAFT BEER but CRAFT BEER alone doesnt equal to GREAT BEER per say.
    People, stop playing devil s advocates. This iniciative come from right people who try to set things right for a consumer who is just about to dicover what real craft beer really can be. It is just so easy to be put off by some fake crafty ales and dismiss the whole craft beer scene as one big gimmicky bullshit. So this certification as imperfect as it is would just prevent that.

    And if you dont like Brewdog's beers, don't drink them. One man's garbage is another one's pot of gold. That's it. They take unnecessary crap for what they do. If they didn't do it, somebody else would. Period.
    Who else should do it than those well known and vocal people at Stone and Brewdog?
    I care about who makes my beer, coffee, bread, meat atc. So what? This heated discussion shows you people care as well, you just hate to admit it. Perhaps you are trying to rebel against without cause.

    Just drink good beer made by good people and help to spread the word about truly good beer.

    Jiri

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