|Picture from here|
Craft beer is a term which means something to me. Granted, it’s an idea of something, a mentality as much as a tangible product, something for a certain type of drinker (someone who cares about the background, the taste; has interest in where it’s from and what it is), but to me it’s something which is relevant and important to the world of beer.
Say the term craft beer in the street and not many people will have heard it before, but only the dimmest wouldn’t make some connection in their mind between the term and the idea of brewing with some notion of the craft in mind (opposed to the industrial scale). Say hand crafted beer and it might be easier to understand; artisan maybe takes it to the next level, makes it sound a bit fancier, but tells you something about scale and heart. Now say real ale and maybe people will understand the concept a little better, but in reality, what is that person thinking? I guess the majority think brown beer, they see stereotypes. Ask them to try and describe what real ale actually is (why it’s called real ale) and I bet most people won’t be able to tell you accurately and nor will they care. And that includes many CAMRA members.
Yes, craft beer is an inherited notion from America, but it has a general meaning and that makes it important. The fact that we can use it in the UK or in Italy or New Zealand or Brazil, surely that means it’s a name which makes sense, which is transferable? Language evolves, colloquialisms develop and people evolve with them, which is why it’s fine for me to say awesome or dude or sweet (As in “Holy crap dude, your sweet new ride is awesome!”). Yes, they are Americanisms, maybe diverting from their original usage, and not everyone likes them, but at least you kind of know what I mean by it.
Perhaps Craft Beer is a term which is more readily used by younger drinkers. I recently wrote a piece about attracting new drinkers to real ale and every one of those I interviewed said that marketing and image puts their mates off. The term ‘real ale’ is part of that. Craft beer might be a marketing name, an overall capture of a concept, but it works, particularly with younger drinkers, and real ale could do with a similar image update – a modernisation of a term which can make it appealing to more people. Come up with an alternative and maybe we’ll use that instead. Maybe we won’t because ‘craft beer’ works. What about Slow Food, Green Living, Detoxing... they are concepts but they are important ones which people have an umbrella understanding of.
And it’s not a division between good and bad tasting beer; not all craft beer is good just like not all real ale is good. The division can’t be made there because it’s too subjective. I wish we could just call it Great (or great) British beer and there be an assumption that it's excellent. In reality we don't say we're going out for a 'craft beer' it's just a beer, but that's not where the usage is important, where it becomes relevant is in making beer sound more interesting, more appealing, more delicious, more inviting.
Craft beer has a meaning which transcends the beer world and means something to many of its drinkers, whether it’s a lifestyle choice or just a vague understanding that what you are drinking isn’t Budweiser. But, more importantly, it can mean something to those who don’t drink it and that something is likely to be more attractive than real ale. Plus, how do we describe those beers that are now in kegs or the bottled beers which aren’t bottle-conditioned? Labelling them ‘beer’ seems a little unfair.
I don’t think we need a one-line meaning of craft beer for it to be applicable for use – it’s a moving target of an idea. I also think regional brewers can be craft brewers. National brewers can as well. The difference comes with the heart that’s behind the beer and that’s an intangible variable. Maybe my argument is that almost every ale brewery in the UK is therefore a craft brewery and we just need to sharpen the image that beer has by associating it with the craft – just because a brewer can empty a mash tun with the push of a button doesn’t make it less of a craft than the assistant brewer shovelling the hot malt out. This probably makes it a marketing decision but British beer could do with a little rebranding, right?
Craft beer means beer made for a more discerning audience than the mass-market beers that ubiquitously line bars around the world. It’s a suggestion that what you are getting has more investment than a hefty marketing budget; it has a heart and soul, it’s made for people who prefer taste to TV commercials. The majority of real ales in the UK are therefore craft beers. I like the term and it makes sense to me, yet others are so against it and argue that it means nothing every time the word pops up on the page. Maybe it’s parochial British pride in not wanting to adopt an Americanism, but in a beer world where the term is understood by people, especially when we don’t have an alternative term, then let’s use craft beer.
Does craft beer work in the UK or not? Do we have something better which isn’t just ‘beer’?