Wednesday 3 October 2012

The great craft beer "debate"

Definition of craft from my Cambridge dictionary: "(a job or activity needing) skill and experience, especially in relation to making objects."

Most beer drinkers won't have noticed because they've got better things to do, but in the extremes of the beer drinking world, there are snooty, superior beings who consider they are discerning iconoclasts: they drink craft beer. What is craft beer? Basically, posh keg.

My view is: fine - whatever turns you on. But that's not good enough for these beer snobs - they want the Campaign for Real Ale to embrace these new keg styles, or (they keep on saying), it will be left behind, and become an outdated irrelevance. Some write about this in a carefully cultivated "more in sorrow than in anger" manner, while others shower unrestrained abuse upon CAMRA and its members. You'd think it was an organisation of devil worshippers sacrificing virgins - in beards, sandals and Arran sweaters, of course - rather than a collection of quite disparate beer drinkers with only one thing in common: they all like real ale.

Definition of craft keg: well, there isn't one. Hard to rally to this particular cause, then: "What do we want?" "Not quite sure." But individual lovers of craft beer each know what they mean by the term. Then you have another "debate" as to whether real ale can be craft, with opinions going both ways.

The issue has arisen because some new breweries have decided to follow the American example and brew quality beer to put it in kegs. The main reason why American brewers do this is because they don't have an ongoing tradition of serving beer in real form after the Prohibition wiped out most old American beer styles; it wasn't a deliberate rejection of cask beer. Scottish brewery BrewDog produce only keg beer now, and Hardknott, Meantime and Thornbridge are some of the breweries producing the new keg beer alongside real ale. The beer is often sold in modern bars at inflated prices, but that doesn't matter because craft drinkers love to pay over the odds to show how discerning they are.

Looking again at the definition of craft at the top of the page, it's clear that real ale can't be excluded. Some craft drinkers argue that the term should apply to small, artisanal breweries, which ignores the fact that the term "craft brewer" was coined by the American Brewers Association, who define it as a brewery producing up to 6 million barrels of beer per year! And as one wag pointed out, artisanal is a good term because it breaks down into art is anal.

The craft drinkers yearn for a definition they can all rally around, ignoring the fact that, with no broad agreement, there'd immediately be a load of dissenters muttering terms like sell-out. Real ale has a definition that is not only in the dictionaries but has the backing of law, but there can never be a craft beer equivalent because there is no consensus as to what it is. To be fair, though, I'd bet most people who drink it don't give a stuff about a definition, don't ever go near a blog, and never give a thought to CAMRA policies or what real ale drinkers prefer. It is, after all, a beer style, not a movement, but you'd never know that from the way some people write about it.

Is there anything in their predictions, such as CAMRA going into decline? Membership is increasing year after year; a lot of organisations would welcome that type of decline. Craft is the beer of the future? Real ale is the only sector of the beer market showing any increase in market share, and it now outsells keg, craft or otherwise.

I don't have a problem with the existence of craft beer, including keg, and wouldn't refuse to try it, if I knew anywhere I could buy it, but the nearest place I'm aware of is in Manchester, 40 miles away. I become very annoyed when craft drinkers start telling the Campaign for Real Ale (clue in the name, chaps) that it should embrace a style that most of its members don't want, as proved by repeated democratic votes at its national AGM. Either form your own organisation - after all, CAMRA began with just four men in a pub - or join CAMRA, get active and try to change the system from within. But, for heaven's sake, just stop whingeing on blogs.  

Tandleman has posted quite sensibly on this subject, but some of the comments below his post are bizarre, while Meer For Beer decided that this disagreement wasn't one she wanted to engage in. I don't blame her.

Perhaps with me, it's fools rush in ...


  1. Both extremes of the divide are boorish. The 'craft' lovers want CAMRA to ditch its aims and embrace keg while some CAMRA members won't accept that keg beer can taste good.
    In view of of the names that Brewdog has used for its beers the Punk v Guitar Rock arguement of the mid 70s is relevant. Not all Punk was good and not all Rock was produced by boring old farts but music got a kick up the backside. The wave of brewers questioning whether cask is the only form of good beer are keeping everyone on their toes. I'm a CAMRA member of 35+ years who drank a large amount of cask beer over the weekend. But tonight I'm sitting in front of the TV with as couple of bottles Belgian beers and a craft beer from the U.K. Omly one of those bottles is bottle-conditioned. It doesn't mean that they are bad.

  2. True. I just find that most bottled beers (real ale in a bottle included) are slightly disappointing compared to cask. Belgian beers are an exception.

  3. Basically it is keg and tastes like keg, end of story. I was given a pint of Brew Dog craft by accident without me knowing and it took me one mouthful to say ' you've bought the wrong beer this is keg' it was that obvious from the taste. If Craft beer is so good, why do the brewers of it use the same beer names as those which have gained a good reputation as a real ale. e.g Punk IPA. Why not call it a new name? The answer is simple it is not as good as the comparable real ale and would get a poor reputation so they try to confuse the drinker. Why are keg fonts made to look like handpumps ?-- same reason.


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