A little while ago I wrote about what craft beer is. But why should we define craft beer in the first place?
Simply, there are a few reasons to define what craft beer is:
- To protect small independent breweries.
- To ensure growth, creativity and competition in the industry.
- To enable consumers to make informed decisions on what they buy.
It also allows us to define what is not craft beer. Which is often equally important.
Defining Craft Breweries
But why define craft breweries in the first place? Well, because it’s easier to define a brewery than to define a concept as ever changing and intangible as “craft beer”.
Firstly, it has to be said that any definition of either craft breweries or craft beer is going to be controversial and will cause debate.
You just need to look to the US where their definition means the inclusion of some odd companies you might not consider craft, while excluding others you’d assume were.
It’s always going to be difficult to get it perfect. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try.
Protecting Small, Independent Breweries
Craft breweries have many unique selling points:
- They’re small business, something that people like and can easily get behind.
- They often have an ethos and a story that engages people.
- And they often use premium ingredients which is increasingly what people are looking for in the food and drink they buy.
Big corporate beer brands do not have these selling points. But without defining what is and isn’t craft beer, big beer brands can slap the “craft” label on any number of their products if it helps them sell.
We’re already seeing this with “faux craft” brands such as the big supermarket beers like John Boston and Steam Rail. These use both the lexicon and visual language of existing craft beer brands to promote their products as an “other than mainstream” offering.
When placed under a “craft beer” banner, especially if they’re alongside limited range, they are sold as a “craft” product. They do this to tap into their target market but without delivering on what the idea of craft beer should be.
Because of the scale of production craft brewers cannot compete with supermarkets and macro brewers on price point.
If a consumer can get a six pack of what is ostensibly a “craft” pale ale for $18 at Liquorland, then why would he spend $26 on what appears to be a similar product.
Ensuring a Bright Future for the Industry
If mass-produced, cheap beers are branded and labelled as craft then small, independent brewers lose market share.
It also leads to a homogenisation of the market. We’re left with a market which is less competitive, less conducive to growth and innovation, and ultimately poorer for consumers and small producers.
If the one thing that distinguishes small breweries is misappropriated by multi-nationals then the little guys are forced to compete on price point rather than quality. It forces breweries of all sizes to find ways of cutting costs rather than focusing on creative and imaginative new ideas.
With this comes the loss of many small businesses as big companies exploit the hard work of craft brewers.
If the unique selling point of craft isn’t protected then the market becomes less competitive as it gets dominated by those with financial power. With no definition for craft beer, growth of the industry is prohibited.
Being Honest and Transparent with Consumers
A lack of protection for the term “craft beer” leads to a problem with honesty and integrity. It directly affects consumers
For example, a recent piece in Crafty Pint highlighted ownership structures that many consumers may not be aware of. (See an interesting infographic on the subject here.)
For people who care about their beer, transparency around ownership is incredibly important.
If a customer thinks the beer they buy supports small, local business but in reality they’re lining the coffers of an international conglomerate then that customer has been lied to.
Tracing the growth of craft beer back to a boom in the USA, it seems fitting to turn to a major player in this movement, Greg Koch of Stone Brewing.
Koch has previously said on why craft beer should be defined, “Craft beer is more than just awesomely delicious beer. It’s also a revolution against the insult of the industrialized notion of beer that has been preying on the populace for decades.
And yet with the success of the resulting backlash of craft beer which has brought real choice back to the people, the mega-beer-industrial-complex wants to co-opt craft beer now too.
We cannot allow this to happen or it will erode the very progress we have all worked so hard to achieve. And they know this. A strong craft beer definition, which has admittedly proved to be a daunting task, is critical in shoring up the defenses for this thing that is so very dear to beer enthusiasts.
We should not let the difficulty of the task of clear definitions dissuade us. We need to allow consumers the ability to decide for themselves who they want to support, but in order to do that, they must be able to understand clear definitions.
The big companies wish to obfuscate and confuse. It is to their advantage. The craft brewers wish to be open, honest and straightforward as it is to our advantage.
A strong, clear definition allows for actual choice, and not just the illusion of choice. The difference is massive. Freedom!”
For me, this is where any argument against defining craft beer falls down. Why would we not act to protect consumers’ interests if the opportunity is there?
Above everything, consumer protection is the most critical reason for defining craft beer. To allow those that love and buy the product to make informed and educated decisions on where their hard-earned money goes.
So, Should There be a Definition for Craft Beer?
In summary, defining craft beer, as hard as it may be, allows us to:
- Protect small independent brewers so that their hard work and unique selling points cannot be hijacked and undercut by richer competitors.
- Ensure growth, creativity and competition in the beer industry and enable brewers to innovate and produce high quality products in a marketplace that makes their endeavour economically worthwhile.
- Protect consumer interests so they can identify the origin and ingredients of the beer they buy, so the know where their money is going and so they can continue to make informed decisions on their buying habits.
Without a definition for craft beer, we forsake small local businesses and innovation in an industry which was allowed to become far too homogenous.
Beer has long played an important part in the social fabric of many countries around the world. Without working to protect the interests of producers and consumers we do nothing to ensure beer remains a part of that social fabric.
This is why defining craft beer matters.
Where do you stand on defining craft beer? Leave a comment with your thoughts on why we should have a definition for craft beer.