BrewDog couldn’t be more wrong in wanting an ‘official’ definition of craft beer

Ancient Order of Frothblowers“Never be afraid to be controversial” is less a statement of policy and more like a reason for living, as far as the BrewDog guys are concerned. Last week James Watt, the brewery’s co-founder, put up on his blog an impassioned argument putting the case for an “official” definition of craft beer to be adopted in the UK. Below is my response, published originally over at the day job, showing how he’s completely wrong.

I won’t yield to anybody in my admiration for James Watt’s abilities as a guerrilla marketeer. He and Martin Dickie, co-founders of Brewdog, have skillfully turned a small independent brewery in – with the greatest respect to the people of North Aberdeenshire – the rear end of nowhere into one of the leaders of the small independent brewery sector in the UK. They now have a reputation among many beer drinkers as perhaps the most iconoclastic, “edgy” brewers in the country, a growing empire of their own bars around the UK, and a presence on the shelves of leading supermarkets and in any “craft beer” bar worthy of that name. From last month the pair even have their own TV show, Brew Dogs, on the Esquire cable TV network in the United States, where they travel across America, visiting bars and breweries and creating “locally inspired” beers. Fantastic. And yet, Watt’s latest campaign, to try to get an “official”, “industry recognised” definition of “craft beer”, to “protect the fledgling craft beer movement in the UK and in Europe” and also to “protect and inform the customer”, suggests to me he doesn’t actually understand the business environment he is working in as well as he thinks he does. What is more, his arguments for the need for an “official” definition of craft beer are entirely nonsensical and totally evidence-free.

Watt says the reason a proper definition of “craft beer”, “to be recognised by both CAMRA and SIBA and also at a European level by the Brewers of Europe Association” is required is because of “three words – Blue Fucking Moon”. Just like many small brewers in the US, he is clearly annoyed that Molson Coors’ Belgian-style wheat beer comes in packaging that could pass as a product from a much smaller operator, and does not declare itself in huge type to be made by one of the giants of the American beer market. He quotes approvingly Greg Koch of Stone Brewing in California, who also wants to define “craft beer” as something in opposition to “the industrialised notion of beer” that has been “preying on the populace for decades”. Unfortunately it’s not clear if Koch, or Watt, are really interested in “saving” the drinking public from “industrialised” beer, or protecting their own sales from a much bigger rival.

Watt insists that the British craft beer movement is being held back because of the lack of an official definition of craft beer, and “the US craft beer movement has only been able to grow as it has because of the US Brewers’ Association’s official and accepted definition of craft beer.” Naturally, Watt fails to give any evidence for these assertions, because there isn’t any. They’re total nonsense. Good grief, the definition Watt points to only came into existence eight years ago, in 2005, when the Brewers’ Association was formed of a merger between two other industry organisations and the combined membership decided to rig the rules so that the “big guys” would be excluded from their club. Nobody ever said before 2005: “I’m thinking of trying Stone Brewing’s Arrogant Bastard Ale, but without an official and accepted definition of craft beer, I’m really not able to.” The boom in the US craft beer scene over the past 30 years has not been because anybody came up with a definition of “craft beer” and suddenly “craft beer” was able to take off: but because a wave of new producers dedicated to making small-batch, artisanal, flavourful beers met a wave of consumers happy to drink those sorts of beer.

This mistaken idea that consumer movements can only prosper when they have “official” guidelines to channel their enthusiasm leads Watt to assert that while “we want retail stores, bars, restaurants and hotels all to have a craft beer section in their offering,” it is “almost impossible to get them to commit to this without being able to offer them an official definition of what craft beer is.” More evidence-free nonsense. I don’t believe that any supermarket, any bar owner, any restaurant ever said to any small brewer: “I’d like to stock your beers, but without a definition of craft beer I’m just not able to do so.” Watt also declares: “What we don’t want, is for them to a create a craft beer section in their shop or menu only for this to be carpet-bombed by beers that are not craft.” What’s the matter, James – afraid that if a bar is selling Blue Moon alongside 5am Saint your beer will do badly?

The truth is not just that trying to define craft beer is impossible anyway. Watt suggests that the definition should be a completely circular one, that “craft beer is a beer brewed by a craft brewer at a craft brewery”, with the argument then devolving onto what a “craft brewer” and a “craft brewery” are – but his idea that the Campaign for Real Ale, an organisation Brewdog regularly chooses to battle with, would back any definition of “craft beer” Brewdog and SIBA might come up with is another nonsense.

The real point is that, despite Watt’s fantasy, any “official” definition of craft beer, will have little to no impact on the marketplace. Those operators who might be defined as “craft beer brewers” and “craft beer retailers” seem to be doing very well in the UK without any official definition of what they are making and selling – and in any case the UK’s small brewery movement seems to me to be well beyond the “fledgling” status Watt is trying to claim for it. If Brewdog is trying to trip up the likes of Sharp’s – now owned by Coors and thus, under the definition that Watt would like to see made “official”, not a maker of “craft beer” any more – Watt really needs to realise that getting craft beer “properly” defined will make no difference at all to the amount of Doom Bar being sold across British bar tops. Overwhelmingly the beer-drinking public, in Britain, in the US and elsewhere around the world, care nothing for “official” definitions of what they are drinking: that goes for the minority who are “craft beer” drinkers, and, of course, the vast majority who prefer those beers Watt and Koch define as “the industrialised notion of beer”, and wouldn’t drink a craft beer if you gave it do them free, no matter what category you said it was in.

Over to you …

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62 thoughts on “BrewDog couldn’t be more wrong in wanting an ‘official’ definition of craft beer

  1. Who exactly is to be the defining body? In many fields there exists an organisation widely accepted as authoritative – for example the Royal Horticultural Society – but for beer there is none.
    Most UK brewers would by the US definition be classed as “craft” brewers-few even approach the 6 million (admittedly US) barrels per annum output limit to be so described and their products would de facto be regarded as “craft” beer. Everyday names such as Fuller’s, Bateman’s, Adnam’s and Timothy Taylor’s are firmly in the craft camp.Then there are the thousand or so recent additions to be added to these so it’s hardly a fledgling industry in any terms.

  2. Okay, I’ll bite.

    This is probably a bollix, for the reasons you point out. It looks suspiciously like Brewdog are happy that there’s now a large and growing market for new wave beers (that’s been carved out in part by them bashing the traditionalists), but now they’re worried that that market is going to be colonized by cash-ins from big multinationals so they’re suddenly saying that wouldn’t it be nice if the new wave punks and the real ale traditionalists could put aside their difference and unite against the _real enemy_.

    Having said that, I can’t get particularly annoyed about it. Partly because it’d be practically impossible to actually implement it in a legally enforceable way so it’s highly unlikely to ever get legs, but mainly it’s relatively conciliatory and a lot less divisive than a lot of their previous marketing, since they’re no longer trying to pretend that in the great battle of Craft Beer versus Industrialized Swill, the two old beardies producing Old Curmudgeon’s Wonky Willy in their garage are (along with Fullers, Adnams et al) fighting on the side of Industrialized Swill. And that seems like a good thing for everyone.

    Also, I think a trend towards more honesty in brewing would be a good thing in general – sure, this particular definition draws a bead on Sharps and also the contract brewing likes of Wells and Sheps (who are probably big enough not to care at this stage) but it’d also be against things like Greene King offering “guest ales” in their tied houses that turn out on closer inspection to have been brewed at the Westgate Brewery in Bury St Edmunds – something that’s a constant minor irritation if you live in a GK dominated region…

  3. Basically, James Watt wants beer produced by smaller breweries to be defined as ‘craft’, regardless of quality, so where would he draw the line? What if one of the big guys decided to produce a range of beers that would meet his definition of constitutes ‘craft’ beer? Personally, I’m not sure that BrewDog is a craft brewer – The OED defines craft as ‘an activity involving skill in making things by hand’ and BrewDog’s ‘state of the art BrewDog eco-brewery’ scarcely fits that bill.

    On the other hand, the second OED definition of craft is ‘skill used in deceiving others’

  4. I can sort of understand why brewers want a clear label for this. Craft is definitely a ‘thing’, however you choose to define it. There is no way that anything would be legally enforceable anyway, so I don’t really see the point. A UK brewers association could work really hard defining what they think craft is and so on but there would be nothing to stop AB-InBev etc claiming the label anyway.

    The people who know about beer, know what’s what and could spot the difference. But then they would not be the target audience for the branding anyway. The people who don’t know wouldn’t care.

    The only way I can see it working is if the retailers (on and off) would go along with the definition, as CAMRA have achieved with real ale. But, as the pubcos and supermarkets are so tied in with the big brewers I can’t see that happening.

    And, lastly, as pretty much everyone else has said, craft does not signify quality.

  5. Thank God there is nobody “official” who has the power to define anything! The nearest thing we actually have, the Portman Group, tried (if my memory serves me right) to “define” a BrewDog brand out of existence. But knowing CAMRA as I do, any committee it set up to do the defining would soon be peacefully absorbed by its own navel – and anyway, there are plenty of CAMRistas who would dearly love to define BrewDog into an early grave. The best things in life emerge from the grey areas. The definers of this world invariably end up as hateful jobsworths.

  6. I agree with you Martyn. I think though Brew Dog has a point. The question is more, how to achieve the objective in the right way.

    The point he has is, large companies should not be able to disguise who produces a given beer, I am sure existing labeling laws in the EU require in some fashion identification of the producer, either manufacturer or the person who (as applicable) imported the products. The problem is, you can set up a subsidiary for this purpose, or possibly (not sure of the EU/UK laws here) indicate a trading name – a non-incorporated name used as a trading style or “dba” as the Americans say – as the maker.

    So the only area where I agree with him, the laws should be such as to ensure no can can deceive the public as to origin. If they read that way now, no need to change anything. If they don’t, I would agree with a campaign to tighten the laws in this regard.

    But to try to define craft beer, craft brewery, is bootless. IMO, by every criterion of taste and quality, Directors Bitter is a craft beer. Bass Draught is a craft beer. Donnington’s Bitter is a craft beer. Fuller ESB is a craft. And Sierra Nevada, and Black Sheep, and Hilden, and so on endlessly. It’s hard enough in America but impossible to rationalize the process of definition in England and Scotland – where craft beer started. What was the goal of the craft revolution? To produce better beer, to encourage big makers to do so where especially in North America they had largely given up. So now that they are doing it e.g. in the form of Sharps, or Goose Island here, that’s great. Mission achieved (partially to be sure). Nothing else need be addressed except possibly the trade description laws if (and I don’t know) they can be applied in a way to permit a big producer to suggest it is some tiny independent down the block – that’s not fair ball IMO.

    Gary

    • I couldn’t disagree more about the beers you mentioned being ‘craft’, with the exception of Donnington and Hilden. The rest are produced on an industrial scale using industrial brewing methods – all tasty beers (ok, not Directors) but a far cry from a reasonable definition of ‘craft’. It’s the same difference between a reasonable loaf of bread from a national producer and that from a small family baker.

      Labelling is a sore point with me. The wine trade is exceptionally guilty of hiding the true origin of wines. There are a lot of wines on sale that look very much like they’re from a small family vineyard and there’s nothing on the label to suggest that they’re actually from a massive producer like France’s JP Chenet, Spain’s JGC,or Gallo in the USA, who as just one company produce more wine than France. They’ve all really sussed out the trick of the small, ‘traditional’ brand and go to great lengths to ensure the labelling doesn’t give the game away. Then there are wine importers and supermarkets who commission wine under a ‘label’ which bears no relation to the producer. All legal under EU law.

      • The only difference I see between the beers I mentioned is one of scale. Just as a homebrewer’s scale is smaller than a craft brewer’s, the latter’s (taking the narrow definition) is smaller than a Wells Young. The product is important, I was at the dawn of craft brewing in America and what people wanted was good taste. If the big brewers had provided it, they would have bought their beer too. Has Director’s changed? I’ll admit I haven’t had it in 10 years. When I last did it was in my top 5 English real ales.

        Gary

      • As France produces three times as much wine as the entire US, Gallo must be a remarkable company.
        The beers mentioned in Gary’s post most certainly would be considered craft in the US and even regarded as from small producers. Don’t imagine that all but the tiniest of tiny breweries have anything like a “hands on” approach.When does it all stop being craft-when the brewer introduces a power hoist to lift the sacks of grain or what?
        Surely what matters is what’s in your glass.

        • Gallo owns vineyards in many countries, but yes, you’re so right about it all about what’s in the glass. No-one criticises a mega wine producer when they still manage to produce a decent or even iconic wine – Penfolds Grange?

      • I’m not sure what electricpics is talking about. Even homebrewers use the same methods to produce beer. And where in the world would industrial scale start? The ‘craft’ part of craft beer isn’t in the process or the size of the brewhouse, it is in the recipe, the ingredients and to some extent the marketing of the beer. There are lots of very small brewers (nano breweries) that make brews that are very similar to the mega brewers. Is their crap better because it was made on a small scale? I’ve brewed at breweries (as a guest) and as a homebrewer and you would be surprised at how similar the process is between them. Crush grain, heat water, mash, lauter, sparge, boil, add hops, cool, ferment, filter and bottle. The concept of craft beer is in the improvement in quality and variety, which will be a very subjective test.

        • I get some of what you’re saying but I doubt many home brewers use high gravity brewing techniques or rack beer before seeding it with bottom-fermenting yeast in a cask to make it just about cask conditioned. That’s what industrial brewers get up to, to make their brewing process cost effective (cheaper). And I’m only talking about cask beer in this case, as the closest thing to the perception of ‘craft’.

          • And what about those brewers who cut out the waste & expense of casking beer altogether, then make the process even more cost effective by charging top dollar for their keg beers? Nobody would call *them* craft brew… oh. Never mind.

        • Look up “craft.” It only has to do with “how” something is done. It has nothing to do with the materials used. You could have 2 frame makers; one that makes frames by hand out of gold and the other with bobby pins. Neither is craftier than the other because of the material used. Craft is about a skill applied by hand.

          Craft also has nothing to do with volume. It’s just been bastardized to make us think craft is about volume so it could fill a very narrow need.

          I don’t know of any homebrewers that have brew kettles with automated arms stirring the mash or automated augers that feed the grain into the mash tun.

          • But if it only means how, surely the definition, whether for BrewDog or others, is not useful. A homebrewer, or brewpub, that makes beer from malt extract would be a craft brewer yet in practice few in North America anyway would consider this craft beer. I believe craft beer is beer made in a traditional way, using ingredients and a method that results in a traditional taste. Clearly many producers of such beer are hands-on and more power to them. But if you can scale up including with automation – which everyone uses today to a degree, e.g. electricity, I cannot see why the result is not craft. No homebrewers that I know pasteurize but Anchor Brewing chooses to and I understand bottled Sam Adams lager is pasteurized, It is still craft though (IMO) because it tastes like beer which traditionally was brewed by craftspeople.

            Gary

  7. I’m not sure anyone cares to have sections of a menu labeled craft and non craft. Most places that do sections do it based on style of beer. I have even seen a bar list “American Light Lagers” as the section heading. All of the mass produced beers were there. The big boys like Miller, Anheiser busch, Labatt can’t usually make beer that will rival most craft beers because they can’t afford to take money away from marketing to put it into ingredients. This is why they stick to their traditional products and new “buzz word” beers (dry, red, lite, lime, low carb, etc). The reason that Blue Moon is a possibility for them is that it is very cheap to make and doesn’t stray hugely from their usual stuff. If they are worried that the mega breweries will sell lots of product under shell company names they should work on labeling laws. i.e. Goose Island Honkers Ale brewed and bottled by Anheiser Busch.

  8. “Overwhelmingly the beer-drinking public, in Britain, in the US and elsewhere around the world, care nothing for “official” definitions of what they are drinking”

    Yep, a number of friends and work colleagues like blue moon. They initially think it’s a craft beer, but I when I point out its not, they still go and order a second pint. Conclusion is that people will buy a beer they like.

  9. Straying into your territory here Martyn but did the country house brewers rail in similar ways against the “non craft” porter brewers in the 18th C? (Could there be an interesting post tracing the long history of the small guy complaining about the big guy then changing tune when they get bigger?)

    I think we have two very effective definitions of craft beer already. One defines the craft of making a beer that is still alive and unfiltered and requires craft skill in production and dispensing – it’s called cask ale. The other is a beer that is also alive and naturally re-fermenting in the bottle to carbonate and mature, helpfully covering not only “Real ale in a bottle” but also long recognised craft skill and its apotheosis in Belgian brewing.

    These are great definitions – both involve craft skill in creation, packaging, storage and dispensing the beer.

    It seems ironic but perhaps inevitable that those who have railed so long and so loud about these definitions as restrictive, who seek to embrace large-scale industrialisation of production and packaging and storage and dispense suddenly want their smaller industrialised product differentiated from larger industrialised products. Maybe we had some great definitions all along and now we’re coming full circle to see that definitions of crafts are the best definitions of craft rather than definitions of scale, money, output which resemble ephemeral country-club membership rules rather than anything tangible.

  10. I don’t know what he’s playing at. At least one supermarket I know already has a de facto “craft” section, inasmuch as they shelve 330 ml bottles from BrewDog and Meantime alongside the 355 ml bottles from Samuel Adams and Goose Island, on the other side of the aisle from rows of 500 ml bottles from Adnam’s, Brain’s, Fullers’, Guinness, Hall & Woodhouse, Ridgway, Ringwood, St Austell, St Peter’s, Sharp’s, Shepherd Neame, Thwaites’, etc, etc. Craft beer vs boring brown beer – the division couldn’t be clearer.

    Under the proposed “craft” regime BrewDog wouldn’t be sold alongside Samuel Adams, Goose Island and Meantime – it’d be sold alongside Samuel Adams, Adnam’s, Brain’s, Fullers’, Hall & Woodhouse, Meantime, Ridgway, Ringwood, St Austell, St Peter’s, Shepherd Neame and Thwaites’. Since that’s obviously not what they want, I can only conclude that either
    a) James has got a cunning redefinition up his sleeve which would eliminate the “boring brown beer” sector from the new craft order
    or
    b) he’s just talking for effect and to keep BrewDog in the news

    Of the two, frankly, my money’s on b).

    • Just on the first proposition (first paragraph), it is amusing to see the market (that store anyway) placing new style craft beers in a section different from a group that includes Ringwood. Because without Peter Austin and Ringwood, there may well not have been a U.S. craft beer renaissance. He trained countless brewers here and sold plant to many, and these in turn inspired hundreds of others, and these in turn inspired, er, Brew Dog and Meantime. This is why there cannot be IMO a craft beer brown beer binary thing operating in the U.K. Or there can be but it doesn’t make any sense.

      But I take the larger point and Brew Dog should just keep brewing excellent beer and opening new retails. They are doing fine as is. Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams did their thing for 30 years (along with good marketing and quality control) and look where they are. That’s the template for Brew Dog, IMO.

      Gary

  11. Totally agree.

    I know there are a lot of people who like “craft” as a way of saying “good” and asserting tribal membership, but I would ask them to think a little more deeply about the ways in which folks like BrewDog and Stone are using their customers as unpaid sales reps. It’s a smart move for BrewDog to try to convince everyone to create a special category that says their beer is better than everyone else’s, but consumers should retort: “why should we be co-opted as a part of your business strategy?”

    The funny thing is that the craft breweries who seem most insistent about purity tests are actually the ones that seem to behave the most like big breweries. They’re more competitive, less collaborative, and most keen to grow huge. When Stone, to take the North American version of BrewDog, grows to five million barrels, don’t expect Greg Koch to look out for the little guys. He is not and has never been in it for the little guys. He’s in it for Stone.

  12. Phil: I think that as far as Brewdog are concerned, their distinctness from the likes of Thwaites etc is self explanatory these days – they’ve got their brand and Thwaites have got theirs and to a large extent people who are looking to buy one are unlikely to be tempted away by the other. So they don’t need to cook up a definition of Craft that creates that distance for them in the way that they’ve tried to in the past. Presumably what worries them now is that an international giant like Diageo or AB Inbev might drop in out of nowhere with a brand that out-Brewdogs Brewdog (or buy an existing one and build it up) – ie something with similar enough beer and similar branding but a big pile more commercial muscle behind it – and start elbowing them out of supermarkets and beating them to space behind bars.

    • This is a looming possibility, I agree, yet only isolated cases have occurred, in U.K. and North America, of big brewing buying small characterful operations and Blue Moon may not augur for the industry as a whole. Also, the keynote, what makes craft craft in England I suspect (although illogically for all the reasons pointed out in this thread), is the APA taste. It’s New World hops, one of the most impactful tastes in the beverage world even in its original Sierra Nevada incarnation never mind your modern IPAs and DIPAs. Maybe I’m wrong but I cannot see that going big time. Blue Moon – wit in general – famously has low hops, so it’s possibly a one-shot affair.

      Gary

    • Well, look at Worthington White Shield. It’s been capitalised by Coors and the beer itself has benefitted from this.
      If the effect of big brewers is to improve the quality of the beers it gets involved in then where lies “craft” and what is it worth?

      • Has the actual beer improved, or its marketing and distribution? I’ve not tasted it since it was brewed in Sheffield.

  13. My guess is that James Watt wants to hold tight to the reins of who gets to say what’s craft and what isn’t. The involvement of CAMRA is, for the most part, a smokescreen because he knows as well as anyone else who has been paying attention for the past 5 years that they won’t bite.

    James does very little that doesn’t directly further his own interests or increase his public persona. As an investor in BrewDog this makes me happy. As an observer of his relentless drive to create his own cult of personality, it concerns me that he’s already positioned himself as the anointed one (Kim Jung Watt, if you will).

  14. What’s extremely odd is that BrewDog continually blast CAMRA for the definition or ‘real ale’ for being a made up term and that the industry should be free to explore styles and not hindered to cask or keg categories. How is the argument for ‘craft’ any different? Oh right, it’s his idea.

  15. To define something this nebulous is almost impossible. One man’s craft might be another’s nightmare. I think it’s like the term ‘fine wine’. There is a huge difference of opinion on where that line is drawn. I have worked with companies that market and define ‘fine wine’ as something I personally would not. We, the public, are clever enough to work out what is broadly meant when the term ‘craft beer’ is used, and will know when we are being sold something is not.
    I am in favour of having an official definition of the terms “Independent Brewery” as well as annual production guides/limits for labelling a brewery “Regional”, “small”, “Micro”& “nano”. I also think that a list of ingredients on the side of the bottle would be informative as I argue here http://www.beerwrangler.com/is-there-such-a-thing-as-craft-beer/
    Saying a beer is “craft” has little to do with size or Brewers Association membership!

    • Beer Wrangler, you’ve summed it up very neatly.In effect it’s a meaningless term.It should be linked to quality , but who is to judge? It’s all so subjective.

  16. Whether or not a beer is considered a craft product is besides the point. The flavours and styles of these ‘craft’ beers range from the traditional to the wacky and really the only thing which sets them apart is the fact that they tend not to be lagers brewed on a massive scale. Even this isn’t true across the board as many breweries considered to be ‘craft’ do indeed produce lagers and some on a large scale.

    More important in my opinion is the quality of the final products produced. Note that quality and flavour should not be confused as 100IBU IPA can be produced just as poorly as any industrial produced lager (not that they are). Neither should production methods. What does it matter if a cask beer is secondary fermented with a top or bottom cropping yeast, it really makes no difference it is still cask conditioned.

    Taste is a preference, after all you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink!,

  17. In many products, think of cheese or bread for instance there are those products that have been made with love and passion, and those which are intended to meet a market requirement. The public drink and eat what is convenient and what they think they want.

    I think if “we” keep informing people of the virtues of good beer, and accept that not everyone can be converted to good quality well made beer, partly because some people dont drink beer for the same reasons as “we” do and partly some people dont care, the poor craft/micro/nano breweries wont survive because people wont buy their product, and the good ones will surely prosper in their market determined by the size of customer demand. World dominantion doesnt have to be the goal, in the same way the local bakery who is doing well, isnt trying to shut down Hovis.

    • Very true, and salutary reminder that even many craft fans aren’t (or IMO) sensitive to the refinements of quality in beer. The other day in a pub downtown I tried a number of beers in a flight. One, a local pale ale, had a decided damp paper taste and was just awful. I saw numerous pints served and consumed with apparent gusto. I don’t get it, but it does suggest that promoting any kind of official distinction really is bootless given the huge range of quality and flavours in the small brewery sector. One thing you don’t want to do is give an imprimatur that is not deserved but creating a formal definition tends to do this. True, the BA organization has done this in the U.S. I would argue that is different though, its history is unique as is the revival of good beer there.

      Gary

  18. As usual, much ado about nothing. These brewers continually perpetuate a stuffy, narrow discourse that no consumer cares all that much about. Their products should be sold on their merits, but apparently that isn’t enough.

    • This is what I find so weird about BrewDog. They used to make some genuinely brilliant cask ale, but they didn’t sell it on its merits – they wrapped it up in a lot of juvenile rhetoric, devious marketing stunts and grotesquely cynical ‘punk’ references. Then apparently they decided that something needed to change, and it was the part about making cask ale.

    • Two beers could taste exactly the same and be made using the same industrial equipment operated by the same minimum-wage labour, but one of them would qualify as craft because of the identity of the brewery’s owner? Does the touch of a craft brewer cure scrofula too?

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  20. The definition Brew Dog looks for( and blames others for not recognizing), is that of a narcissistic self appeal, a personality flaw that has affected many people today across many sectors of business and personal relationships. Hardly worth the mental exercise of analysis, it’s a classic behavioral identifier. Beer is beer, if you make it well, people will notice your honest craft and passion. The only further identifications that need to be made here is the personality of the subject, nothing more, If I were Brew Dog, I would be told by an honest friend…”Stop masturbating in front of the mirror dude”, you’re not that special .

  21. I’ll bite, too. BrewDog are horrible marketing-type suit people who make terrible beer. Can we all stop doing their bidding and giving them free publicity every bloody time they do something stupid like this?

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  23. I am a craftsman myself. The first step to being a craftsman is being able to make straight lines and square corners. I suppose the basic straight lines and square corners of brewing a good beer is being able to balance malt, yeast, hops, water and alcohol, and accurately judging how these all fit together. If that is indeed the case, then I think the idea of a “craft beer” (self proclaimed) category in retail outlets is an excellent one, and an excellent way of identifying which super-hopped, high %ABV, clownishly titled offerings are to be passed over without a second glance.

    • I’m going to shamelessly lift this comment made today by member of a brewery forum that I’m a member of, discussing a thread about Brewdog Tactical Nuclear Penguin 32%ABV…

      ‘I went in one of their bars in Aberdeen and to be honest it was a sad state of affairs. The place was like a laboratory, which I suppose was quite apt as their beers are more like science experiments, and the weakest beer on draught was 5.4%. I sincerely hope BrewDog are not signifying the future of beers and pubs’.

      • I was out boozing in Brooklyn NY this summer. I was reduced to drinking Budweiser because I couldn’t take any more of the “craft beers”, tasting as they did of special brew and earwax.

      • Why is 5.4% as a minimum a bad thing? I regard it is a good value. If I want to gear down on the alcohol, I ask the server to add a few ounces of soda water. In the 1800′s, 5.4% would have been the bare minimum at which alcohol strength started in the pubs and I feel we should return to that as it represents better value, less calories, and (in the view of many) superior flavour.

        Gary

          • I meant two pints of 5.5% beer should have less calories than 3 pints of 4% beer.
            (Less bulk certainly).

            If I am wrong I stand corrected.

            Gary

        • A stronger beer should in principle lead to stronger flavours but this by no means always happens . This is not the same as superior flavour though.
          British brewers made a virtue out of a necessity when they found out how to extract so much taste from low gravity beers.And it’s low strength beers which keep the pubs afloat ,up the strength and your customers will buy less of it and make shorter visits.

        • Would 5.4% have been a bare minimum in the 1800s? I am a bit skeptical about this, though it is often claimed. But either way, we are not in the 1800s, and low/moderate %ABV beer is a well established phenomenon and loved by many.

          • Based on reading OG’s and conversions to ABVs on historical beer sites including (in this regard) the researches of Ron Pattinson on barclayperkins.blogspot.com, as well as some of Ron’s books, 5.4% seems a reasonable figure for a minimum ABV except where small beer was still sold but that died out by about the mid-century. It is true, and I’ve made the argument myself, that some beer probably hovered around 4% (porter especially) due to watering by publicans. However, this can’t be regarded as a norm IMO and as the century wore on other evidence suggest the law got a better hold on the problem. Beers were just stronger then, mild ale was stronger than porter and started at about 7%. Pale ale was about 6-6.5%. Now, all this is in the 1800′s so why is it important? Well, I think it shows that drinkers had to accept something lesser in the 1900′s, tax increases caused beer gravities to drop, brewers could sell more units at the same price and beer became a lesser value for the consumer. True, many people got used to the idea of drinking multiple pints at low gravity, but this habit can easily change back, e.g. Belgian ales (which kind of duplicate English gravities of the 1800′s) are famous for strength and have a long established market there and now internationally. American craft beer circles are infamous for high strength beers, beers which again are closer to the 1800′s standard in this regard, except for German lager, which started fairly low and relied too on the idea of lengthy sessions, but lager crept up to a minimum 4.8-5% ABV in Germany and America finally. It doesn’t prove that modern English session drinkers are wrong, to be sure, but I believe that at least the option should be given of higher strength beers at a fair price and drinkers will see the logic of it in many cases. Of course, public policy decisions may influence matters the other way, as possibly now in UK where the duty scale favours production of moderate-alcohol drinks.

            Gary

            P.S. I believe cider too traditionally was a reasonably strong drink and often still is in its craft forms.

  24. I agree with many of the replies regarding the lack of legal recourse that they would hope to surround this type of activity with. I do see a benefit in the definition as a marketing tool to define who has a love for the craft from those that use the cheapest adjuncts to maximize profit. I grew up in the midst of the craft beer movement here in the US. When I started out choking down the swill that is pumped out of the giants that like to call their beer refreshing and flavorful, the best we could do in the microbrew space was Guinness, boston lager and a smattering of so, so craft beers (by today’s standards) fortunate enough to be distributed. The big boys on the block played their own games to try and stifle the craft beer movement as seen in Jim Koch’s rise to a founding father position of the industry and documentary, Beer Wars. Large corporations will do anything to prevent market erosion by a status quo challenge such as the quick and nimble craft breweries changing that game and turning their nose up at the German definition of beer.

    I have personally never had any brewdog brews and cannot attest to their success as brewers. I certainly do not subscribe to trying to brew the strongest beer in the world, which has to taste more like wine and spirits than the embodiment of a great glass of suds. I admire their passion, their show is mildly entertaining and I love seeing some of the great minds behind some of my favorite US breweries on the show. I say cudos to them for having the balls to challenge the bullies in the industry and taking their market share in the name of the art of brewing and shame on the corporations for preying on the ignorance of the populace with a fancy graphic and new name to pass their shitty excuse for a beer off as “craft”.

    Regarding strength of beers, the sub 5% target is yet another way to maximize profits and minimize quality. I think that the 6-9% range is a comfortable ABV that allows consumption at a reasonable pace to be on par with those of the watery garbage that others serve. Plus, get a good buzz going with less brew and there is room for higher margin bar food to appease the bean counters!

  25. I only acknowledge three categories of beer, beer I like, beer I don’t like and beer I haven’t tried yet. Everything else is just marketing and if it’s a choice between a beer from a large brewing group that I like and a beer brewed in a garage by a bloke with a strange moustache that tastes of dishwater and gravy browning I know what I’ll be drinking.

  26. Pingback: What is Craft Beer? | The Missing Drink

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