This is an argument that’s popped up a lot in recent times. And it’s one that I’ve been reluctant to write about. But here goes…
Right now, I think “craft beer” probably is the right term to use. But ask me again in a year.
“Craft beer” has some traction. While beer geeks might argue the about the exact definition, generally speaking, people know what you mean when you talk about it. As this section of the beer industry continues to grow we should probably stick to what people understand.
I do like “good beer” as a catch-all term and I know there are a lot of people who think the same. Perhaps not as a replacement for craft beer right now, but as a term to encapsulate what we actually mean when we say craft beer – the stuff with heart and soul in it. It’s as good a term as any to navigate around the tricky waters of defining craft.
Not All Craft Beer Is Good. Not All Good Beer Is Craft.
As successful craft breweries continue to grow and if the term “craft” continues to be linked to the size of a brewery, then what do we call the new big boys?
In the US, what do you call Sierra Nevada or New Belgium who have achieved massive reach and production beyond most other craft breweries but remain independent?
And what do you call Elysian or Goose Island who did well, grew and were bought by AB Inbev? They’re all still producing good beer.
In Australia, how do we refer to Little Creatures or Mountain Goat? They’re not independent but does that mean they’re not “craft”?
The End of The (Craft) World As We Know It?
I think in the next few years we’ll see more Australian craft breweries being bought by the likes of Lion, Carlton United and AB-Inbev.
If these big companies learn from the mistakes and successes that have occurred in the acquisition of other Australian and American breweries, there’s no reason why they can’t keep producing good beer.
It might not be “craft” as we know it now but it might still be good.
(Although, plenty will argue that inevitably there will be cost cutting and an impact on the beer. But until that happens surely it’s still considered good, regardless of who owns it?)
Then there’s the recent debate over the term“indie beer”.
I don’t think this term will stick but I have often found myself talking about beer like you’d once have talked about records. “I’m dashing down the record/bottle shop, they’ve got the new release from Belle & Sebastian/Doctor’s Orders!”
The analogy with independent music is an appealing one and, to its credit, the term “indie beer” focuses on the major issue for many people, the independence of breweries.
And that’s great but it quickly falls down if you assume we’re past the point of accusing our favourite “indie” breweries of selling out when they move under the banner of a major label. We are past that, aren’t we?
Either way, it still doesn’t get to the core of what craft beer is. It doesn’t properly encapsulate the passion, the stories and the people who make craft “craft”. You can’t say that those things aren’t present at somewhere such as Goose Island.
How Do We Put a Label on Passion?
So what do we call this thing that we like? The beer that excites us, that makes us travel to find it fresh, that makes us pay higher prices, that ignites debate and that fosters community and fandom?
It’s a discussion which came up on the SydneyBeer Facebook page. There I posited that soon we’ll see “craft” go the way of “boutique” and “microbrewery”.
These were terms that seemed to fit well at the time but were replaced by something better. I think “good beer” will take the place of “craft” and then, one day in the future, we’ll just refer to it all as beer again.
So… Is Craft Beer The Right Name?
I have written about how we define craft and why it matters that we define craft. But if the scope of that label is limited and we need something to incorporate both good independent beer and good corporate-owned beer, then surely, as the lines between these become increasingly blurred, the answer is in the adjective – it’s good beer.
But then maybe none of it matters. Maybe you just either like the beer, or you don’t.
Where do you stand on the labelling of this beer we love? Does “craft beer” cut it? Or do we need a new term like “good beer”. Leave a comment with your thoughts and suggestions.