The mystery’s solved: apparently it is about the money.
Here’s a press release I received recently. It refers to a report produced by the agency which sent it, but since they didn’t send me the report – or a link – I don’t know any more about it than you. This is the complete text of the press release; I haven’t made any changes (or corrections) except to edit out the name of the agency, to spare their blushes.
Redefining ‘Craft’ Beer
The craft beer market is currently undergoing unprecedented growth across America, Europe and Australasia. Despite the hype, there has been a lack of an industry consensus to the ‘craft beer’ definition. A new special focus report by [agency] redefines its meaning.
In the US, the Association of Brewers defines craft brewers as small (annual production of 6 m barrels of beer or less), independent (less than 25% of the brewery owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer), and traditional (a brewer who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavour). Whilst this definition has worked well locally, transferring it to other markets can prove problematic. Most consumers would define a brand such as Leffe as a “craft” beer, however, the brand is produced by A-BInBev, and therefore would be excluded. Similarly, when the UK DoomBar brand was acquired by Molson Coors, it would have ceased to be a “craft” beer.
In the absence of an existing global definition, [agency] has sought to define craft beer in its own terms. Following extensive consideration of the segment globally, [agency] presents a definition of “craft” beer as a segment primarily made up of Premium and Superpremium priced speciality beers – excluding flavoured beers, super-strength lagers and Stout. This would include products made by microbreweries, but would also encompass products like the Belgian Abbey & Trappiste Beers; the French Biers de Grade; Premium English Ales; Wheat Beers; and Seasonal Beers.
Kevin Baker, Account Director at [agency], says that “there will inevitably be areas where a subjective judgment is required. This definition does mean that some brands that are not normally considered as Craft Beers are included. However [agency] believes that from a consumer perspective the line between craft and speciality is extremely vague and porous and that it makes sense to include these brands”.
This information is based on findings from the [agency] report ‘The Craft Beer Phenomenon’ published in September 2013. The report is part of a mini-series on added value in the declining beer market, which also includes ‘The Premium Beer Market 2013’ and ‘Sweetening the Pils – The Market for Flavoured Beer and Beer Mixes 2013’.
So there you go: craft beer means speciality beers – not including flavoured beers, super-strength lager, or stout – just as long as they’re sold at “Premium or Superpremium” prices. Leffe is craft; DoomBar [sic] is craft, at least if you pay enough for it; Punk IPA is craft if you pay premium prices to get it on tap, but presumably not if you buy it in a can at the supermarket; and Chimay is craft in Britain but not in Belgium (where it’s slightly cheaper than chips).
All of this tends to confirm my starting position, which is that ‘craft’ can’t be defined in any way that says anything informative about the beer. If it means anything, it means ‘beer that somebody wants to sell as craft’ – and this report tells us why they might want to.