Yup, I’m going there. This is a pretty complicated area, I’ve spent many an hour arguing the point with cask and craft fans a like. The lack of definition in UK doesn’t help the situation.
The craft movement in the UK is exploding, since the mid 2000s its been going from strength to strength and doesn’t look like it’s slowing down. It’s providing a huge range for the consumer to choose from, the more to choose from the better I say. I love craft beer, as I do the more traditional beers ( cask in particular). You’ll find a lot of people on either side slamming the other: cask ale is boring, warm and flat; craft is over hopped and just different for the sake of it. At the end of the day there are great beers from both sides, there are also terrible ones too.
Before I get in to definitions, I want to say I hate the way the word ‘Craft’ has been used. Craft can be defined as an activity requiring skill. The reason I find this word inappropriate is that all beer production requires skill, if you tell a brewer in a non ‘craft’ brewery that he is not using skill you’d be swiftly ejected I’d imagine. That being said, that is the word that has been chosen and ‘on trend’ right now so there we are.
You can’t talk about craft beer without mentioning America, the craft movement can be traced back to the deregulation of brewing in 1979. That time preiod has allowed the development of a definition for craft brewing, and just as importantly support from the Brewers Association.
In the US craft beer is defined by the Brewers Association as:
- Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.
- Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
- A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
Why do we need a definition?
We need a definition in order to protect the relatively new craft beer movement in the UK. The craft beer movement in the UK keeps going from strength to strength. However there are a lot of large brewers trying to jump on the band wagon by labelling some of their beers as craft, which is perfectly within their rights. I have no problem with large brewers personally, a lot of them create great beer, but what we don’t want to happen is that they drown out the small independent brewers. Having a separate definition for them will help to protect them.
Here’s what I believe should be part of any definition of Craft Beer in the UK:
- First off, craft beer is brewed by a craft brewery.
- Craft Brewers are small brewers.
- They should innovate; using historic styles and putting their own twist on them, or creating brand new styles.
- They can use non-traditional ingredients can be added for uniqueness and innovation.
- They should, where possible, use locally sourced ingredients.
- They should connect with their customers, and be able to move quickly to meet changing tastes.
- They should maintain their independence, and at the most only have a marginal interest from a non craft brewer.
These ideas are similar to those as mentioned by the Brewers Association.
Anyway, that’s my two pence worth. There’s a lot more to it and I’ll probably post again on the topic a number of times as my opinions and the UK craft market develops.