Down with Craft Beer!

Some of what I’ve been reading in the beer blogosphere reminds me of conversations I’ve had with coffee-lovers. I’m thinking in particular of some American coffee enthusiasts who I used to share a mailing list with, one of whom was a good friend of mine; we could talk about most things, but I rapidly learned to leave the topic of coffee well alone. For her there was a definite hierarchy, with those ignorant souls who bought ground coffee at the very bottom (I’m not sure she knew instant coffee existed). Slightly above them were the well-meaning ignoramuses who ground coffee in bladed machines instead of using a specialised burr grinder, and the poor fools who ground batches big enough to keep for a week instead of grinding it fresh every time. Then there was the question of how to brew the coffee: filter machines were right out, since you really had to make espresso if you wanted to taste the coffee at all. Stove-top pots were all right in their place, but really there was no excuse for not investing in a large machine with dials and spigots – at least, not if you were at all serious about coffee. But even then – even if you regularly ground a single cup’s worth of coffee beans and tamped it down in your own personal Gaggia – you’d still be missing out if you’d bought those coffee beans pre-roasted. Really, anyone who took coffee seriously had to roast their own beans; until you tried it you just wouldn’t know what you’d been missing. My friend put all of this over in a teasing, jokey tone, but beneath that she was deadly serious: we even fell out at one point, when she congratulated me on buying a burr grinder and told me the next step was to get a proper machine instead of a “steam toy”. (That would be a Moka Express ‘steam toy’, as used by basically the entire population of Italy.)

One happy day, the conversation on that list turned to tea. At last, I thought – a topic on which I’d have the home advantage. American kitchens can’t even be relied on to contain an electric kettle: what could these people know of dunking pyramidal teabags, buying Sainsbury’s Red Label to take back to your student flat (or Brown Label if money was tight), distinguishing between Earl and the parvenue Lady Grey, the horrors of British Rail tea, the still greater horrors of instant tea, the joy of tea and a Mars bar, lemon tea in the afternoon, the smoky intoxication of Lapsang Souchong at night, or the glorious wakeup call of that lifesaving first cup of the morning? A million memories, a million cups of tea.

What did the coffee people know of all that? Precious little; they hadn’t had tea-drinking lives as I had. But what they did know about – and could talk about at some length, to my dismay – was how to brew first-flush Darjeeling, the difference between green tea and white tea, where to get the best Keemun and Oolong, what the best blend of Keemun and Oolong was, where you could get the best blend of Keemun and Oolong… and so on. The conversation rapidly entered realms of connoisseurism where I couldn’t follow. I was strongly reminded of the Brian Aldiss short story in which visiting aliens ruin English literature by attaching inordinate importance to minor figures like Robert Louis Stevenson and Maria Edgeworth; their attention generates an endless supply of new works, all crying out to be read, catalogued, studied. (I’m not sure of the title of the story, but there’s a Spanish translation here.) Somehow this was not what I had meant: too much attention was being paid, or the wrong kind of attention, or attention was being paid to the wrong thing.

What’s this got to do with beer or beer blogging? I was born in 1960, so I can remember when the beer landscape was dominated by Double Diamond and Worthington E and bleeding Watney’s Red Barrel. Thanks to Richard Boston’s sterling work in the Graun, I was a CAMRA sympathiser before I ever tasted beer. The first time I drank beer it was Fuller’s London Pride, dispensed from a polypin into paper cups. It was laid on for the roadies setting up for an Albion Dance Band gig at my school; my friend was there as a cheap informal gofer for the roadies, and I was there with my friend. I estimated afterwards that I’d got through ten or twelve cups by the time it went sour at the end of the afternoon. (I don’t remember anything at all about the gig itself; apparently I spent most of it sliding on the parquet in my socks. Happy days.) The second time I drank beer, it was keg Watney’s, and it was deeply unsatisfactory – cold and gassy, with a flavour without any depth. The third time it was cask Buckley’s, and I was in beer heaven. My experience of the contrast between beer 2 and beer 3 (reinforced by foggy memories of beer 1) told me that Richard Boston was telling the simple truth: there was real ale and then there was imitation ale. Cask ale was a many-splendoured thing – and mass-market keg was about as good a substitute as cold pricklies are for warm fuzzies.

For me, then, the point of CAMRA – and of caring about real ale more generally – was partly to celebrate some extraordinarily enjoyable stuff, but only partly. It wasn’t an Ale Drinkers’ Guild, it was a campaign – and that word ‘real’ was what put the CAM in CAMRA. Keg Watney’s wasn’t a poor example of beer, it was a poor imitation of the real thing. And this was a recent development. Once – and not that long ago – there had been no keg ale, just as once there had been no processed cheese or Chorleywood bread. Once all ale had been real. The ultimate aim of CAMRA, as I saw it, was very much the same as that of a campaign for real bread or real cheese: to make it real again, for everyone – just as it had been real before, for everyone. In short, to bring about a world where every pub and club serves cask beer to its customers. Whether it would be good cask beer was secondary (admittedly a very strong second). Whether it would be interesting or original or unusual cask beer would come a long way down the list; to the extent I thought about that at all, I thought that regional variation was another thing that should be restored, and that in itself would create near-endless opportunities to taste new and interesting beers.

In short, my ideal world was one with at least as many pubs as we have now, but one where every pub supplies a couple of decent session-strength cask ales, plus the odd speciality, from a local brewery. It still is: as far as CAMRA’s concerned, I think that would be Job Done. (Which makes this a surprising bit of good news, although (a) time will tell on the rent-gouging front and (b) they really ought to put a top coat on that woodwork.) But there are moments when I wonder whether I’m facing the same way as some of my fellow bloggers. When I’m told that this is what a pub should look like – and that caring about how many of those taps are keg is an irrational prejudice; when a beer festival can look like an ale-themed episode of Endurance (Most beers were around 9% and bragged tongue-wrecking IBU levels); when I’m told that these self-important clowns are the stars of independent brewing… something feels wrong. Somehow this is not what I thought I was getting into: it feels as if too much attention is being paid, or the wrong kind of attention, or attention is being paid to the wrong thing.

Nothing sums up the mentality I’m getting at better than the label craft beer. What does it actually mean? I can just about understand how it might at least seem to mean something in the US, where (thanks ultimatelypartly to Prohibition) the large brewers are really large, and there’s a high degree of overlap between “buying from a micro” and “buying something decent”. An American beer drinker who swore off the fine products of Coors and Anheuser-Busch wouldn’t miss much good beer by doing so, and they certainly wouldn’t miss much real ale. But even in the American context it’s a vague and marketing-driven label, combining lack of precision with self-congratulatory smugness: part of the definition of “craft beer” is that it’s something we brew and appreciate, unlike all those other breweries churning out their yellow fizz (let alone all the poor fools who drink it). If you try to apply it more widely and consistently it falls apart: do Yuengling make “craft beer”? If so, why? If not, why not?

In Britain, I honestly don’t know what “craft beer” means, to the extent that it’s supposed actually to mean anything. I know what it connotes – brewers with passion and imagination, interesting and different beers, pushing the envelope and so on and so forth – but I don’t know how you could draw a line that says that Beer A is a “craft beer” and Beer B isn’t. Being a micro doesn’t make you a craft brewer; being a volume producer, or investing in lots of shiny kit, doesn’t stop you being one. And, of course, being in a cask doesn’t make it a craft beer – and being in a keg doesn’t stop it being one (perish the very thought!).

It begins to look as if “craft” as an adjective doesn’t actually mean anything: it’s an arbitrary bit of marketing jargon that a few brewers and their fans like to apply to their beers, for reasons best known to themselves. Alternatively, perhaps the people using the term do have something in mind, and “craft beer” is something you just know when you taste it. The only trouble with that is “craft” is obviously a term of approval, and different people are going to have different takes on which beers deserve that approval. You say Thornbridge and BrewDog are in the vanguard of the keg revolution, and a lot of cask ale is bland and mediocre; I say Timothy Taylor’s Best is the queen of beers and BrewDog are a bunch of overhyped chancers with beers to match. Who gets the “craft beer” label? The only way it’s going to have any consistent meaning is if it’s defined by someone, or a group of someones, who everyone else listens to. All due respect to the stars of the beer blogosphere, but I’d rather be the arbiter of my own tastes.

“Real ale” suggests to me something unadulterated, universally available and frequently quite basic; “craft beer” suggests beer brewed by beer geeks for beer geeks, with recipes as elaborate as you like and prices to match. It’s as if it had become impossible to get a decent cup of tea in a cafe, and our response was to sing the praises of white tea and Keemun/Oolong blends. Millions of people, in this country, used to go to pubs regularly and drink cask beer. That this staple workingman’s drink has been almost entirely pushed aside by inferior substitutes is a tragedy, and one which still deserves to be campaigned against. There could be a Euston Tap in every city in the country, doing a thriving trade selling black IPAs and cherry lambics to the cognoscenti, and CAMRA’s work wouldn’t be done; it would hardly be begun.

With his customary lack of ambiguity, the Curmudgeon recently warned against “a redefinition of ‘real ale’ as stuff produced by obscure small breweries and consumed by pretentious middle-class tossers”. A line about catching more flies with honey springs to mind, but essentially I don’t think I can improve on that, other than by saying that the danger is less that the old term gets redefined than that it gets sidelined in favour of a new and more malleable alternative. Continuing the quote:

Surely two of the great virtues of “real ale” are that it has a crystal clear definition, and that it is something that is available to ordinary drinkers in ordinary pubs. The risk from that approach is that you may end up casting aside the brews upon which the real ale revival was founded, such as Wadworth’s 6X, Marston’s Pedigree and Greene King Abbot Ale, and that you also end up casting aside the pub in favour of the specialist urban yuppie craft beer bar.

Amen to that. Long live real ale! Down with craft beer!

Update For the benefit of everyone coming over here from Beer Advocate and Reddit, I’m not saying that everyone using the term “craft beer” in the USA is wrong. I’m not saying that the term “real ale” should be used instead in the USA. I’m aware that things are different in the USA. I haven’t studied the history of Prohibition in detail, I’ve never tasted a double IPA, I don’t have any opinion about Yuengling and no, I don’t work for Coors. I am not writing about beer in the USA. Please amend the title of this post, at least in your mind’s eye, to “Down with Craft Beer In The UK (Reserving Judgment On Whether The Term Is Appropriate Anywhere Else)”. Thankyou.

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38 Comments

  1. Posted 28 November, 2010 at 6:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Thanks for the mention – and good to see you agree with me about leaving pubs in primer too :-)

  2. Posted 28 November, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Hmmm. My problem with all this is that it makes all the other beers people are calling ‘craft’, “the rest” simply because of dispense. Somehow, we’re going to need to move away from using cask as the only benchmark for ‘good beer’ and find a way to admit these beers. Otherwise, how do you allow for breweries who offer both types of dispense?
    What’s so special about those beers you refer to, by the way? I’m a year younger than you, but I don’t have any attachment to beers I’d say in the 21st century are distinctly average. Or have they acquired some kind of ‘heritage’ status?

    • Tom Mann
      Posted 28 November, 2010 at 7:23 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I do love a good double Ipa, and being 25, I’m probably in the age bracket that Brewdog are aiming to sell their products to. I also love all the American micro brews, but I fucking hate the term craft. I can’t stand it. I’m also looking forward to going down my local tonight and sinking a few pints of Banks’s. I’d say I’m blessed in these times of having a proper, traditional boozer to call my local, but I’d also like to have a pub like the Euston as well.

    • Phil
      Posted 29 November, 2010 at 11:27 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I don’t see it in terms of “using cask as the only benchmark for ‘good beer’”: not having the term “craft beer” to describe them with never stopped me drinking and enjoying Schneider Weisse or Duvel or Orval. The answer to the question “is Orval real ale?” has always been “no, but it doesn’t matter” – not “hang on, you’ve got a point, we need to rewrite all our definitions”. At the moment I can’t see why keg from Lovibonds or Meantime should be treated any differently – it’s either good or bad beer, but even if it’s good it’s not real ale.

      What’s special about Abbot et al? You’d have to ask the Curmudgeon, but what I’d say is that they’re dependable cask ales that are widely available in ordinary pubs. That to me makes them part of the solution, not part of the problem. At the risk of sounding like Cookie, if I order a pint of Abbot I know exactly what I’m going to get. If I order the latest from Marble or Abbeydale (which I generally do) it may be so extreme that it’s wonderful or it may be so extreme that it’s hard to finish. Sometimes you just want a nice ordinary pint.

      • Posted 30 November, 2010 at 9:57 am | Permalink

        Orval is bottle-conditioned, hence real ale.

      • Phil
        Posted 30 November, 2010 at 10:17 am | Permalink

        Don’t be ridiculous. Orval tastes funny, it doesn’t come out of a hand pump, and (I think you’ll have to agree) it’s foreign. Real ale indeed!

        OK, OK… for ‘Orval’ read ‘non-bottle-conditioned bottled beer that everyone’s been drinking for yonks without worrying about it’ (there has to be at least one, surely).

      • Posted 30 November, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Permalink

        The point is that beers like Abbot, Marston’s Pedigree, Wadworth’s 6X were the mainstays of the original real ale revival, when there were no microbreweries at all. Have these beers been somewhat blandified over the years? Probably. Does that mean they’re no longer worth drinking? Not in my book. I would say there are very few regular cask beers from established breweries in Britain that don’t have the potential to be very enjoyable in good condition.

        If the “craft beer” movement decides to turn its back on such beers on the grounds that they’re widely available and made in big plants, then you are defining something that is much more narrow and exclusive, and effectively saying that most “real ale” isn’t really worth drinking.

        I also have much sympathy with Elektrolurch’s comment that beer should be “something comforting, simple, and deeply routed in culture.” It has to be taken in context, not in isolation.

        Spending an evening drinking well-kept Banks’s Mild in a convivial pub may well be a more satisfying way of spending your time than drinking an extreme triple-fermented seven-hop American IPA in your sitting room.

  3. Posted 28 November, 2010 at 11:29 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Excellent post. It’s interesting that the people who shout the loudest about a “craft beer revolution” are so hostile to CAMRA, who have actually led a beer revolution.

  4. Posted 29 November, 2010 at 12:01 am | Permalink | Reply

    Puh-lease.

    Phil, I was with you for a good chunk of this post and think I’m probably in 99% agreement with you on what makes a good beer, and even share your concerns about the Oolong set – great analogy.

    The problem, I suspect, is that ‘real ale’ and ‘craft beer’ each started life in the same way – as an attempt to classify what good beer was versus shit beer. Both were catchy and fired the imagination of people who enjoyed good beer. In 1971/72, CAMRA quite reasonably figured they should get around to defining ‘good beer’ a little more closely. The problem is, what constituted good beer back then was very specific, and the tight, technical definition of ‘real ale’ has become inadequate.

    I would bet my house that for most CAMRA members, ‘real ale’ means beer that has been made ‘properly’, with love, and care, by people who care about taste. But the technical definition of real ale is of no significance to the vast majority of people who love it – I regularly do focus groups with samples of the 8 million real ale drinkers in the UK, and rarely do I come across someone who knows or cares about cask breathers or live years fermenting in the cask or filtration or any of the other things CAMRA campaigns about on their behalf. For most drinkers (not me, not you) ‘real ale’ (if they even call it that) is something that comes out of a handpull on a bar. And it’s usually (not always) good.

    I’m not saying those technical factors are unimportant or not worth protecting – just that they go beyond most people’s knowledge or interest.

    The whole point of ‘craft beer’ is that it is vague enough to encompass a broad church of beer. It’s imprecise, but most people would guess what it means and broadly agree on what is and isn’t craft beer. You highlight examples from the margin, the dividing libe – I’m not interested in the margin. Fuller’s Vintage ale and Brooklyn lager are craft beers. Stella and Budweiser are not. Anyone can understand and agree on that. Therefore it’s a useful concept.

    But we only need the term ‘craft beer’ because CAMRA’s definition of real ale is too narrow and specific. To try and pin down and define exactly what craft beer is in terms of ingredients, process, provenance or any other criteria you want to suggest is to miss the point of why we need the term in the first place.

    Oh, and it’s not a ‘marketing exercise’ – it’s popular because it works for fans of great tasting beer.

    And Barm – not sure I need to say this to you or not because usually you seem like a bright, reasonable guy, but I’ll say it anyway even though I get so tired of saying it – to criticise CAMRA is not – repeat NOT – to deny the good they have done. It’s simply to point out that the beer market has moved a hell of a long way in the last 40 years. Surely no sane beer drinker on the planet would deny that? But CAMRA’s definition of what constitutes good beer has not moved an inch. That is a criticism of their current position, not a criticism of their legacy or undeniable achievement.

    • Mike B.
      Posted 29 November, 2010 at 2:38 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I like my beer the way I like my women: my way. Taste is not a universal. I find many American beers awful – profoundly unbalanced and clashing or bizarre flavours. But, that’s my taste.
      It’s easy to say everyone understands and agrees on universally good and bad beers, but those beers are in the vast minority. It’s the other 95 percent that are a matter of personal taste and nothing more.

      • Phil
        Posted 30 November, 2010 at 9:45 am | Permalink

        I like my beer the way I like my women

        …wet, bubbly and just a little below room temperature.” (I’m hearing Matt Berry.)

        Pete – not ignoring your comment, just taking a bit of time over a response.

  5. Posted 29 November, 2010 at 12:02 am | Permalink | Reply

    Bollocks – live YEAST. Not years.

  6. Posted 29 November, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    ‘Craft beer’ has a specific definition too though: from a brewery producing less than 2 million barrels a year, no more than 25% of shares not owned by craft brewery, only uses adjunts in a virtous manner. To me this is worse than good old ‘real ale’.

    Or you could ignore the American definition of craft beer but then it becomes essentially a meaningless term for ‘beer that I like’.

    • Phil
      Posted 29 November, 2010 at 11:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

      The point about adjuncts is particularly slippery – as someone on Reddit pointed out, A+B say the rice in Budweiser is there to improve the flavour. And the point about ownership – pity the poor craft brewer who mislays 26% of their share capital.

  7. Matth35
    Posted 29 November, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I love these debates; they can be endless. Craft beer this; Real Ale that. Put a historical perspective on it and what do you have, all the Real Ale made now would not be Real Ale if you go back in history far enough and it has had it’s fair share of technology applied to it at one time or another. You cannot freeze progress. Like Pete my opinion for what it’s worth, and it is just that, an opinion, is that most people agree on the majority of what is good and bad and will never agree on the margins. CAMRA and others may have to settle on agreeing on the 80% and letting people make there own minds up on the other 20%.

  8. Posted 29 November, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Glad I’m not the only one who loathes the term “craft beer”. A certain group of geeks seems intent on turning Britain, its beer and its pubs into a poor imitation of the USA.

    You don’t have to copy someone else to change and develop.

  9. Posted 29 November, 2010 at 1:54 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Excellent stuff and whatever else one can say about it all, I like Ron’s comment too. Why on earth do we want to become America?

  10. Posted 29 November, 2010 at 2:18 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Dear oh dear. And round we go again…

  11. Gavin
    Posted 29 November, 2010 at 3:55 pm | Permalink | Reply

    “craft beer” suggests beer brewed by beer geeks for beer geeks, with recipes as elaborate as you like and prices to match. It’s as if it had become impossible to get a decent cup of tea in a cafe, and our response was to sing the praises of white tea and Keemun/Oolong blends.” Sums it up for me.
    Whilst I would count myself as a traditionalist I do like a bit of innovation and experimentation and have really enjoyed some of what Thornbridge have done. That said, the whole craft beer thing seems like a load of old hype to me “Ooh! look were putting craft beer in cans, aren’t we such terrible anarchists.” and as the rest of the world doesn’t even notice, it all seems more like “The Towers of London” than “Anarchy in the UK” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohIrl0W4j8Q quite amusing though.

    I think what I have particularly disliked about the whole craft beer discourse is the disingenuous tendency to suggest cask beer and conditioning as little more than a piece of rhetoric. I find it contradictory to suggest that it doesn’t matter where the Co2 comes from while suggesting some beers taste better if they are force carbonated, it either makes a difference or it doesn’t.

  12. IFP
    Posted 29 November, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Well, there are a disturbing number of sweeping generalizations in both the article and these comments. There are, however, a few very good points made in the comments. Keeping in mind that the year is now 2010, I think it is obvious which comments are logical. And for those who hate the term “craft” beer, I feel compelled to tell you that I find the term “real” ale to be both pompous and prehistoric. Fighting to keep good beer alive and kicking is a good thing. But when it becomes too restrictive and people starting focusing on “the letter” and not “the spirit”, it becomes a limitation, and a liability. See: Reinheitsgebot

    • Posted 30 November, 2010 at 12:23 am | Permalink | Reply

      I agree he term “real ale” is crap. I never use it myself. I say cask-conditioned or cask.

  13. Gavin
    Posted 29 November, 2010 at 8:41 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Punk Rock is definitely prehistoric, and there is nothing new or radical about putting beer into kegs and force carbonating it, they’ve been force carbonating beer since the turn of the last century.

  14. Posted 29 November, 2010 at 9:05 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I think you have just defined what it is that I really dislike about the beer scene on this side of the Pond. I just want to enjoy a decent pint, in a decent pub, preferably with my mates. I don’t want an existential experience.

  15. Posted 29 November, 2010 at 11:48 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I think you’re reacting to the beer geeks and BrewDog et al who have co-opted the term “craft beer”. Ultimately, for better or worse I think it’s a valuable term and saying “down with craft beer” in response to the worst of the people who embrace it feels a lot like cutting off your nose to spite your face. What if the beer geeks and BrewDog etc start using the term real ale to describe their stuff rather than craft beer? Are you going write your “down with real ale” entry? I hope so, and I’ll tell you another thing, as long as we’re busy bickering about specific terminology, and the definition of beer styles, and whether CAMRA needs to adjust its definitions, etc etc etc Stella and Bud are going to continue mopping the floor with us.

    I’ve been trying to talk about “good beer”. Because it’s pretty fucking simple, but very hard to find. Don’t think you’ll see that getting any momentum behind it, though.

  16. Gavin
    Posted 30 November, 2010 at 12:20 am | Permalink | Reply

    I find it very easy to find a good simple pint in a good simple pub, the pubs and bars of my city are awash with excellent real ale. I don’t particularly have anything against Brewdog, I think their approach to beer is quite fun. I do think that the beer obsessed see their influence to be more far reaching than it is though. Craft beer really doesn’t mean anything in this country. Some of my favourite beers are produced by old established small scale family brewers not “craft brewers”. I have a perverse curiosity about craft keg beer and will no doubt take the opportunity to try it when the occasion arises. On the whole though real ale is what I like and the prospect of “craft keg” competing to knock the real ale of my local pub’s bar is not one that I relish. On the whole I find craft keg beer as inviting as “craft block cheddar”. I like my cheese made in the round and preferably cloth bound and I like my ale cask conditioned.

  17. Posted 30 November, 2010 at 12:21 am | Permalink | Reply

    Phil, what a great post. I agree profusely with some of your points and very little with others. And for a bit in the middle I had to hang on in there to get past the coffee beans!

    Firstly, ‘real ale’ and ‘craft beer’ are not mutually exclusive. Real ale can be hand crafted whilst craft beer can be twice fermented. Doesn’t matter if you are brewing a dark mild in a traditional Midlands brewery or an Imperial-Belgian-Cherry-India-Pale-Ale in a Cornish basement. With champagne yeast.

    Craft beer shouldn’t replace real ale as an umbrella definition for good beer because neither ‘real ale’ nor ‘craft beer’ automatically denote quality in beer, and if CAMRA would rather bad real ale in every pub than a pub offering good keg beer then they can have my membership card faster than a Boro fan might throw a season ticket at Steve McClaren. Somehow I think CAMRA are, for all the hard line members, able to appreciate that other forms of beer aren’t the devil in disguise and that a variety of beer types can sit together amongst the beer taps. What I’d give me good real ale in every pub I visit, but first and foremost I want tasty beer.

    Esoteric beers in beer bars across the UK might not ensure that every working man’s club has a decent cask beer on but they sure might help the survival of traditional real ale and sell it to new audiences, as well as becoming places to celebrate good beer. And I’m sure they can survive alongside the huge numbers of pubs that make less headlines in communities everywhere. So keep campaigning, the craft revolution isn’t stopping anyone drinking real ale, only adding to the diversity that’s required for good beer to continue to be developed.

    Perhaps something is needed to supplement CAMRA, a mark of quality of beer for pubs, or breweries, that denotes quality in production, sustainability and flavour? This could stand beside the ‘This is real ale’ badge and proudly advocate that fact that beer is something to be enjoyed, whatever the degree of enjoyment you wish to partake in: casual toe-dipper-inner, real ale supporter or ticking-mad beer geek, whatever that means.

  18. Elektrolurch
    Posted 30 November, 2010 at 12:49 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Somehow, this whole debate makes me happy to live in Franconia, where beer is cheap, tasty, and simple….
    I used to be kind of a beer geek to and i tried to get my hands oft craft stuff from the us here in germany, and succeeded to some extent…..but i guess i just grew out of this ,,the more extreme the better” attitude….
    beer in my context is something comforting, simple. and deeply routed in culture. maybe the us can learn from the classic beer nations in europe and instead of going to more extremes and more style definitions, see how beer can really be enjoyed

    • Rod
      Posted 30 November, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Permalink | Reply

      Couldn’t agree more – particularly the last paragraph. Beer in Franken is not cask conditioned (sometimes it is served from a wooden barrel, but that’s not the same thing) but it is nearly always good. If you become fixated upon a particular form of dispense you are going to miss out on some good beer, and Elektrolurch is right – the cultural context is very important, whether it’s cask bitter in an English pub, Kellerbier in a Franconian brewery tap or Lezak in a Czech pivnice.

  19. Posted 30 November, 2010 at 8:51 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Wow. What a lot of snobbery in one post.

    “Craft Beer” is a label that has a LOT of meaning in the US, because it means “made with passion by a brewer, not to a recipe by an international conglomerate”. It means “you are going to taste something good, not something that tastes like horse pee. In the case of my home state, Alabama, it also means “it was mostly illegal until May 2009″.

    “Real Ale” has a meaning and a history in the UK. “Craft Beer” has a meaning and a history in the USA. They both mean “GOOD BEER”, which is what is important, surely?

    And before you go off on me for not knowing anything about UK drinking culture: until 2005 I lived in Scotland which is when I emigrated to Alabama. I have followed and participated in changing a manifestly and brutally unjust state law on beer (ABV above 6% was illegal). I have had beers on both sides of the Pond, and can speak knowledgeably about the drinking cultures in both countries. They are *completely different* and one size does not fit all – any attempt to do so will ultimately fail.

    Surely the important thing at the end of the day is to see more people drinking and enjoying *good* beer instead of mass beer? Arguing about terminology is like arguing about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

  20. Rick
    Posted 30 November, 2010 at 10:08 pm | Permalink | Reply

    Wait a minute. You use a Moka Express?!

  21. phildo
    Posted 1 December, 2010 at 12:16 am | Permalink | Reply

    Yes the terms are kinda pointless, never tried cask ale but warm flat low abv beer doesnt sound so great (not saying it can’t be good). In the US craft beer is so different to macro beer in general, while in europe it isnt so much. for example everyone knows in belgium it goes like average beer is jupiler/stella next step up is hoegaarden/leffe then above that is duvel/trappist stuff. while in the US the double IPA’s are not widely accepted as the highest quality, but as for those who have developed a fetish for hops.

  22. chinabeergeek
    Posted 1 December, 2010 at 8:48 am | Permalink | Reply

    i know that you just put in a disclaimer that specifies your complaint as “UK-only”. but just wanted to make sure you also know that the brewers association (US) DOES have a definition for “craft beer”.

    http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/business-tools/craft-brewing-statistics/craft-brewer-defined

    i personally think some of the criteria can be tweaked further (either more lax or more stringent in certain areas), but just to further emphasize that in the US, the term “craft beer” is not just arbitrary marketing jargon.

    • Posted 1 December, 2010 at 9:11 am | Permalink | Reply

      That’s a definition of a “craft brewer”; is everything a craft brewer brews automatically “craft beer”?

      The interesting thing about the concept of “real ale” is that it’s all about the beer; it could be brewed by Coors and it would still be welcome to the label. I think some British beer geeks dislike that, & prefer the “indie”, vaguely counter-cultural image of “craft beer”.

      I really don’t want to get into the US “craft beer” scene, which wasn’t what I was writing about at all – although, after reading comments on BeerAdvocate & other places, I feel I understand it a bit better than I did.

      • chinabeergeek
        Posted 1 December, 2010 at 9:53 am | Permalink

        good point, and i think that’s one of the weaker aspects of the definition. tho i personally think one can deduce that if it’s from a craft brewer, and doesn’t use adjuncts to lighten body/flavor, then it’s a “craft beer”. and yes, i think some craft brewers do make non-craft beers, which are deliberate imitations of bland rice/corn lager. but these are by far the exception.

        in any case, the main thing to keep in mind again is that “craft beer” as a meaningful term is very US-specific. just as “real ale” or even “session beer” don’t travel very well outside of the UK context.

    • Posted 24 March, 2011 at 9:25 pm | Permalink | Reply

      I have to agree that this is a definition of a “craft brewer,” and what’s more, it’s a definition written by a business association that is designed to include their members and exclude others. The idea that “craft beer” depends on where a beer is brewed and by what company — and who owns that company — is questionable at best. As is noted above: “real ale” is an undeniable definition, and it doesn’t matter who makes it: if it’s real ale, it’s real ale. Period.

  23. Posted 1 December, 2010 at 5:53 pm | Permalink | Reply

    The term “craft” conjures up images of my granny’s crochet club.

    Big breweries can make great beer – Castle Milk Stout for one.
    Real ale is often oxidised.

    Using “real ale” or “craft beer” to mean “good beer” is sloppy.

    Judge the beer in the glass – not how it got there.

  24. Posted 22 April, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Permalink | Reply

    yea i agree with you antony, it should be how it tastes not how it was made the end result is what count.

    • Phil
      Posted 24 April, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Permalink | Reply

      And so spam finally passes the Turing Test. Be afraid!

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