Articles like the link above are great for fuelling the debate on the crucial beer question, “when is a craft ale not a craft ale?” Or for that matter, “when is a boutique beer not a boutique beer?” Yes, there is a difference between an ale and a beer, but, for the sake of argument, I’m going to pretend there isn’t on this occasion. Similarly, I’m also going to assume, for this posting anyway, that ‘craft’ and ’boutique’ are interchangeable.
It’s something I’ve been struggling with for a while, not least because I’m obsessed with definitions. As a lifetime member for the Campaign for Real Ale (CAMRA) in the UK, I’m also painfully aware that there’s a growing snobbery about beer. A mate of mine recently told me that he’s boycotting 4 Pines because, “it’s flooding the market with cheap craft beer, making it more difficult for other boutique players.”
Whereas that may be true, the founder of Sam Adams has just this week reached billionaire status… he hasn’t destroyed it for the rest of the growing craft ale market (currently some 17% versus the big brewers growth of 1%); if anything, he’s boosted it. The more 4 Pines flood the market, the less tasteless beer will be sold.
I’ve seen arguments talking about “volume of beer produced” – and, in fact, unsurprisingly, that’s how the US industry defines ‘craft’ – but when I spoke to Sarah at the 4 Pines, she didn’t focus on numbers, but went straight to the softer aspects. So are these sort of values important in a economically driven market, and how do you put the ‘value’ on them: family run; passionate about beer; giving punters taste; sourcing locally… the list goes on?
The success of Sam Adams has been put down to him being a marketing genius – the Steve Jobs of the beer world – and yet, by the US’s own standard definition, despite being too large a volume player to be termed a craft brewer, there’s few who would deny that’s exactly what he is, and he’s done it playing to all those old fashioned softer values.
Sure, for those of you who need numbers, go ahead, create a new standard – that’s the beauty of standards, there’s so many to chose from – and sooner or later, there will be a whole quality industry or another Government department springing up just to manage the whole thing. The good news about the ‘soft’ points is that you can’t measure them, yet you know, just like Sarah, Steve, and Sam, that this is what brings goodness into the craft beer industry. And if you want to pay what the craft brewer is asking you to pay, then that’s just fine.
My simple definition: a craft beer is a craft beer whenever YOU want it to be.
On a lighter note (see the link below), I’m sad to announce that neither Australia nor New Zealand (a previous number one) are in the top 10 beer drinking nations in the world… come on, mate, make an effort!