What do these beers have in common?
Goose Island IPA
Worthington White Shield IPA
Granville Island ‘Thirsty Farmer’ Saison
The answer is that they are all delicious, well made beers by individual brewers who seem to care about the product that they make. Oh they also happen to be owned by two of the largest international mega brewery companies in the world; companies that most ‘craft beer’ fans treat with contempt, and are unlikely to be ordering any of their more visibly ‘industrial’ brands anytime soon. Those two companies are Molson Coors and AB Inbev. AB InBev are known for probably the most famous brand of beer in the world – Budweiser. Molson Coors own the ’silver bullet’ (coors light to you and me) as well as the top selling domestic range of lagers in Canada from North Americas oldest continually operating brewery – Molson.
These companies do not make craft beer, surely.. according to the (American) Brewers Association and now the guys at Brewdog, craft beer can only be made by a craft brewery, and AB InBev and Molson Coors are definitely NOT craft breweries.
James Watt and Martin Dickie have tried to define craft beer in the UK because,no definition exists as such. They are looking for SIBA (Society of Independent Brewers) , CAMRA and the community as a whole to come together and define what ‘craft beer’ means in the UK. They point to the US and the Brewers Association’s (BA) definition as an example of how the US ‘defines’ it. The roots of the BA lie in representing small brewers, but now the maximum output per year for members is 6 million US barrels (7.04 million hectolitres). This would be one huge brewery, hardly ‘small’. The Brewdog boys think 500,000 hectolitres annually is a suitable size limit for a ‘craft brewery’. SIBA (formerly Small Independent Brewers Association) reserve full membership for breweries who produce 200,000 hectolitres or less (above this then only associate membership is permitted) alongside provisions ensuring full independence from the big boys.
There is no guarantee that small breweries, by anyone’s definition, whether that be 7 million hectoiltres or a nano-brewery producing less that 10 hectolitres annually will produce beer that is any good, let alone be defined as ‘craft’
For me it is about the beer, and its ingredients. Adjuncts seem to be important to many people when working out a definition. Are they used to enhance or reduce flavour? asks Brewdog and the BA. A brewer that uses rice (such as Budweiser) would argue that it does enhance the flavour by giving the beer a clean crisp taste that an all malted barley beer cannot give. Craft beer fans would say it reduces flavour to the point where the drinker can barely taste anything.
So where does it leave us on defining what is and isn’t a craft beer? Well, one man’s craft beer could be another’s mainstream swill, so who am I or you to define it for everyone else? I think that giant megabrew companies can own brands or companies that can make craft beer; the five at the top of the article are examples where they have bought up great breweries that produced great beer and still do.
Can the same beer made with exactly the same recipe in the same brewery by a great brewer one day be considered “craft brewed” and then as the shares are bought up by Coors Molson or AB InBev suddenly be industrialised swill? The beer has remained the same, just the ownership has changed!
The answer is that there is always going to be a large grey area that may well be impossible to define, and to try and put hard and fast rules may well be a fools errand. I thing it is worth defining “Independent breweries” and perhaps size as well. ‘Regional, Small, Micro and Nano’ might be worth defining if only to inform for the consumer, as well as qualifying for particular beer festivals that feature for example, just nano-breweries or just independent breweries.
Pigeon-holing a broad term like “Craft Beer” is trying to define different peoples perception of an ethos, quality, flavour, ‘honesty’ and artisanal-ness among other terms. It is not possible in my opinion and we should only try to define what is quantifiably definable, and I think size and independence as well as declaring a list of ingredients is what we should be aiming towards as they are far more useful and interesting things for the drinker to know as he or she sups on a tasty brew.