Just what is Craft Beer

What is craft beer?

That’s a question that gets fired off quite a lot on the internet, pretty much anywhere people drink beer and speak English.

The problem is that there isn’t really an answer. I’ve been homebrewing beer for well over a decade, and I don’t have an answer for you. There’s no industry body out there that’s defining what craft beer is, or setting standards for what craft beer can and can’t be. While the BJCP has made a valiant effort at defining clear styles of beer, even that hasn’t really caught on outside of the brewing community itself.

Have you ever gone into a supermarket or off-license and asked for a double IPA, or Russian imperial stout? I’m guessing you probably haven’t. Do you think you’d get very far if you did?

Why is it important?

Because it matters. It matters in the same way that a small local bakery matters. Or a Vintner based in England. Or a hop grower in Kent. Or that little restaurant in your local town. It matters because the people running it care about what they’re doing. They’re trying to make a product they believe in, that they believe you will love. A product that’s worthy of your respect as a consumer.

For me, a craftsman is someone who pours his heart and soul into a product. Maybe he’s turning out the same chair to exacting standards. Maybe she’s making a unique chair and each one is slightly different, even in a set. The difference is that the person making the chair cares about it. They want you to sit down and think,”Wow. This chair is comfortable. I want to buy this chair.”

That’s how the craft brewer feels about his (or her!) product. When you buy a pint of your local craft brewer, he doesn’t just want you to sit and drink it. He wants you to savor it, and buy another. He wants you to tell your friends.

Would you call a chair you got at a certain Swedish chain a unique piece of furniture? Probably not. That’s not to say it’s of poor quality, just that it was probably made by a robot with a laser cutter.

The same goes for the industrial producers of beer. The big industrial lagers that are sold by the bucketful over the bars of pubs and clubs around Britain are technically very high quality products. They’re exactly the same, every time, every pint. That level of precision and repeatability is something that industrial engineers and chemists have worked at for decades to achieve.

It’s industrial. It’s manufacturing. It’s not that the brewers who work there aren’t great brewers, it’s that they can’t put any of their creativity into the product. They can’t make that double IPA, or Russian Imperial Stout, because they have to brew that Danish lager. Exactly right. With some of the hardest water in the UK.

I’m under no illusions that brewing isn’t a manufacturing business, but if you’re getting your hands into your product, you’re making the creative decisions, and taking the risk that the punters might not drink it… you’re a craft brewer.

And we’re proud of you.