27 Nov 2013

And here we go again...


.. I've got nothing better to do today so...

If it hadn't been for Cooking Lager's comment in Ed's blog I would have missed this. BrewDog has had another go at proposing the basis of a legal definition to the “Craft Beer” fairy tale. It's shorter than the previous one, and Blue-Moon-less, but it still packs quite a lot of nonsense.

Right at the beginning they say that:
”There is also strong precedent for legally defining Craft Beer. Legal definitions are everywhere and are designed to protect a product’s reputation from poor imitations. ‘Bourbon’, ‘Whisky’ and ‘Champagne’ are 3 examples where they have protected premium drinks from cheaper imitations and helped both the consumer and the category in the process. Cheddar Cheese anyone?”
This is almost like trying to make a Chinese contortionist out of logic, really. “Bourbon” (never miss a chance to harangue the American masses), “Whisky” and “Champagne” are protected indications that speak about the product they regulate and protect, where it is made and how, not about who makes it. Diageo, the world's largest booze making corporation have in their portfolio Single Malt Scotch Whisky, Rum, Cognac, Champagne and Bordeaux wines, and Tequila, and they could have České Pivo and maybe even Kölsch, if they wanted. In other words, when you buy one of those products, you know what you are buying, there's a guaranteed provenance and certain quality standards that the product must meet. But what do you buy when you buy “Craft Beer”? Looking at BrewDog's portfolio, it can be anything from the barely alcoholic Nanny State to monstrosities like Tactical Nuclear Penguin, all made in different ways with ingredients from all over the world. That's because the definition of Craft Beer, as proposed by BrewDog and pretty much everyone else who has tried, speaks about the producer and very little about the product itself, which, as far as protected indications go, it's the most important thing.

But let's got to the definition itself, which has been updated.

They've done away with the volume limit. European Craft Breweries don't have to be “small” any more. Very sensible, indeed. A new point was added that says that A European Craft Brewery is committed - ”If the brewer has an estate, at least 90% of the beer they sell must be craft beer.” I don't know what to make of it, I find it oddly specific, though.

The other three points in the definition have remained unchanged. #3 – Being independent, I take it for what it is, the sine qua non condition for eligibility for membership in BrewDog's private club (shrugs notgivingafuckingly).

I'm almost in full agreement with #2 – Honesty; I just don't see very much the point with: c) All their beer is brewed at craft breweries. If the recipe was designed by a craft brewery, the ingredients are also theirs, and they supervise all the production process and quality control, does it really matter who the owner of the factory happens to be, as long as everything is mentioned on the label?

It's #1 that bothers me, though. The say that a European Craft Brewery is “authentic”, that they brew all their beers at original gravity (obviously referring to High Gravity Brewing – HGB) and don't use any adjuncts that lessen flavour and reduce costs. Firstly, it is largely unnecessary, if #2 is complied with, then it'll be up to consumers to decide whether they want to drink a beer made with corn syrup or not. And secondly, and more important, it insults the intelligence of anyone with a modicum of knowledge about beer. To be honest, in principle, I agree with the HGB thing, it's clear that it's used only to either reduce costs or to increase capacity without investing too much in infrastructure. However, I've lately been wondering whether HGB hasn't become guilty by association, very much like some adjuncts. Could it be that you can still make great beer with HGB, if you know what you are doing? I'm not really sure; on the other hand, can James and Martin swear that no Craft Brewer uses other processes and techniques that can compromise the quality of the product only to reduce costs?

But the steaming, stinking pile of oxshit is in the adjuncts bit, really. How can you possibly determine the intention behind the use of an adjunct just by seeing it mentioned on the label? And, if the intention can not be determined, shouldn't we judge based on the end result? Westvleteren uses refined sugar for their beers, according to this definition then, they, and the rest of the Trappist breweries, many, if not most, Belgian brewers and anyone else who makes beers the Belgian way, can't be craft breweries, or at least those beers can't be considered Craft. People like James and Martin will obviously argue that the adjunct in question is used actually to give those beers the "right profile", or something along those lines. Fair enough, but they are still brewing cheaper and, if they used 100% malt, the beer would have more flavour, wouldn't it? (But then again, consistency has never been one of the characteristics of the craftophile discourse, really).

But what is that flavour thing craftophiles like to speak so much about, anyway? Can anyone draw an objective limit between flavour -ful and -less? No, because it's all subjective and relative to one's experience. Someone who mostly drinks big ass DIPAs or Imperial Motherfucking Stouts will likely find a good desítka or a Kölsch to be very dull and boring, whereas I know of people, lifelong drinkers the likes of Cruzcampo, who have flipped with their first sip of Gambrinus or Budvar Světlý, are the in any way wrong to consider those beers tasty and interesting?

The roots of all this lie in the moronic elitism – or elitist moronism – prevalent in much of the craftophile discourse, where “good beer” is an objective entity defined by what the crafterati approve of, based on their collective personal tastes; anything else is dull, boring, bland, mainstream, industrial and therefore, bad.

But none of this irritates me as much as BrewDog's cheap demagoguery, which, to make it worse, is seasoned with a pinch of hypocrisy.

In the paragraph that I quote above, James and Martin tell us that legal definitions have protected “premium drinks from cheaper imitations”, which, according to them, can help the consumer. This is curious, because James himself left a comment in my previous post on this matter saying:
”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.”
So, if in James own words, this definition basically disregards quality, how can it possibly help us in any significant way, when quality is the most important thing for the consumer?

But wait, because it gets worse, they almost go full Fidel Castro when they say that a legal definition is important because it will “guide consumers and ensure they are protected from being exploited by monolithic mega corporations masquerading as craft brewers” Give me a fucking break! Do they really believe this bollocks? Of course they don't! Which makes it really worse. But then you see comments like this: ”Beer that is brewed without managerial, historical or profit related constraints. Allowing brewers to have artistic control of their beer. Thats craft beer!” And you realise the audience they are speaking to.

It's very clear to anyone with half a brain what this definition wants to ensure, that our money goes into the right pockets; the best interest of the consumer is and has never been among the priorities. I doubt it'll go very far, though. It's so silly that they would need to pay a shite load on lobbyist to have anyone who matters in these matters take it seriously, or so I hope.

Na Zdraví!

PS: If you haven't already, read Pete Brown's long post about craft beer. From a marketing perspective, it makes loads of solid points. It's a bit a bit of a shame that he almost blows it all at the end by saying: ”So long as bigger brewers remember that craft is about brewing before marketing, about flavour before packaging, about integrity and honesty before segmentation and exploitation”. Though, if he's right with that, then there is many a craft brewer who don't make much of craft beer, just sayin'.

4 comments:

  1. First. I don't believe in what you have said here...

    "The roots of all this lie in the moronic elitism..."

    That is simply not true and you do little to support this claim. There is nothing wrong with someone putting forward the strongest case for their own type of brewing and to highlight their own personal specialism as something... well.. special. Similarly, why would they need to keep touching base with alternative forms of brewing? You can choose to drink what ever you want, there is nothing that one small company (or for that matter a small group of companies who agree on the definition of Craft Beer, or finally the EU who might create some form of protection for the term "Craft beer") can do to stop you nor are they anywhere near the point of pushing alternatives our of any market.

    The examples of Belgian and Czech beers as points of respect and then follow this up with a claim that they don't fit the definition. Well why should they? "Craft Beers" should never be used as a industry standard synonymous with "Good beer" in they way that you are using it. Nor are Brewdog using it as such (as far as I know). You seem to be doing this. Interestingly Brewdog are trying to create an identity for a 'new' form of beer in a very short time, compare this to CZ or B or for that matter beer from Germany which have rich and distinct weight of history behind their work, practices and standing. And historically this has come from and way improved by - at least in part - from self definition or external legislation.

    Finally, I don't see your "Let everyone do their own thing" market based approach and the "we work hard to believe in what we are doing, now it is time to protect this work" approach are incompatible.

    I simply do not see the problem with defining the brand and the beer that is "craft beer".

    *...prepares to be shot down...*

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    Replies
    1. I don't think you've understood me well.

      I don't have any problem with a producer of something trying to convince me that the brand they sell (in this case, Craft Beer) is in some way better than the alternative. I wouldn't expect anything else. How they choose to do it, is a different matter. You can say "our brand is better because we value tradition, we do it with love" or any other thing like that, which might be meaningless, but at least speaks about what you do. Instead, you often see brewers slagging the macros for making crap. Unfortunately, this bullshit has transpired to the fanboys, who parrot that line without even thinking about what they are saying. On top of it, you have a number of people who believe that their personal tastes should equal the definition of good or bad for everyone.

      Further, I don't have problem with BrewDog wanting to establish an association of Craft Breweries, or whatever they want to call it, with their own, very specific and, we should say, convenient conditions for membership. I'm cool with that. It's always positive to see competitors working together to address those problems they may have in common, and to more effectively promote their brand and create synergies that can benefit all the members. But to say that they want to "protect" or "help" us, the consumers, that is insulting our intelligence. Anyone who does actually care about the ownership structure of the companies that make the beers they want to drink can find that information without much hassle. I am also against a codification of any sort for "Craft Beer", because it would essentially be a corporate appropriation of something that has always been in the public domain. What is most curious is that there are many people who will explain that "Craft Beer" is actually a philosophy of sorts. How can you possibly codify a philosophy, then?

      "Craft Beers" should never be used as a industry standard synonymous with "Good beer" in they way that you are using it. Let's change "good beer", which is an opinion, for "well made beer", which is closer to a fact. Either way, it is quality what we're speaking about. And if quality is not, can never be and was never meant to be something this definition will address, then why bother to have it codified? An ad-hoc trade association would be more than enough, then.

      As for the second to last paragraph. I'd repeat what I said in my previous post. If you make good beer and know how to sell it, you've got little to fear.

      BrewDog and co. have imported a brand from the US, together with their almost fairy-tale like values because they are very smart and they saw that the market was ready for it. That timing and opportunism deserves respect. What bothers me is all that bollocks about revolution, movement, evangelism and their sometimes nearly religious-like discourse. They make good beer, they have a great company with an impressive brand, they could very well spare us of that shit already.

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  2. It seems that a working definition of craft beer requires one new piece of hardware: a device which looks into the souls of brewers, assesses their intentions, and matches the ingredients of their beer against the results. Once we have a working one of them, we're laughing. Until then, it's just the arbitrary drawing of circles around different sorts of beers.

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  3. "”If the brewer has an estate, at least 90% of the beer they sell must be craft beer.” I don't know what to make of it, I find it oddly specific, though."

    I think I understand what he's trying to there: exclude breweries like Fullers who have a large estate of pubs. Unsurprisingly, as most of the beer sold in these pubs is commercial LAger, they fail the 90% "craft" criterion. Whereas because BD pubs only sell geek beer, they qualify.

    Really fucking cynical.

    And as you say, if its not about gauranteeing quality for the consumer, what fucking use is an "offical" definition "craft" beer?

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