Monthly Archives: November 2011

Mega mega white thing

Boak and Bailey have picked up the “craft beer” banner again, and put up a page explaining what they mean by the term.

When we say craft beer, we mean a group of beers, including many real ales, which, in our view, are a good thing and deserving of respect.

(Emphasis in original.)

That’s the short version; the longer version consists of a list of criteria, mainly applying to the brewery, and headed

Craft breweries and craft beers will have some of the following characteristics.

(Emphasis not in original.)

I have to say, I think this is all a bit of a waste of effort. Unless I’m talking about the American brewing scene – where the term came from, and where it arguably makes some sense – I never use the phrase “craft beer”, for three reasons.

Firstly, it’s divisive. At least, it’s been used – in Britain – in ways that are openly and deliberately divisive, by people who make a point of displaying contempt for large parts of the beer scene, and I think it carries overtones of this kind of usage. B&B write elsewhere:

If people just starting out on beer happen to get all excited about Guinness, or crazily hoppy American IPAs, we should be encouraging them, not sneering.

I agree entirely, but when I hear the words ‘craft beer’ I hear sneering. Specifically, I hear something very like the “what’s the matter, Lagerboy” snobbery of old, only this time it’s aimed at boring brown beer, people who drink boring brown beer, people who like (supposedly boring) brown beer, people who don’t like double IPAs, people who don’t like imperial stouts, people who don’t like ‘craft keg’, Colin Valentine, the CAMRA executive and CAMRA members in general. “Lagerboy” snobbery was crazy because it was alienating the very people who CAMRA needed to win over, but this new brand of snobbery is even worse – it’s alienating the minority of people who are already into good beer.

Secondly, it’s incredibly imprecise. Read literally, B&B’s long definition implies that the only breweries that aren’t ‘craft breweries’ are those that have none of the listed characteristics; and, since one of them is “They brew cask- or bottle-conditioned beer”, this in turn implies that all real ale brewers are ‘craft brewers’ – as well as some that don’t produce real ale. (I know I’m being a pedantic pain in the backside here, but that’s what definitions are for. If you’re defining quality X, you have to be able to say when something is not-X.)

Thirdly, it’s unnecessary. I don’t insist on bottle-conditioning when I’m buying bottled beer, and I can’t really get behind the idea that bottle-conditioned beer is “real ale in a bottle” (brewery-conditioned beer would be “keg in a bottle”, presumably). I’ve been drinking Old Tom on a fairly regular basis since I first discovered it; the cask is better, of course, but the brewery-conditioned bottled version is still one of the greats. So when Bailey comments that “if you don’t think ‘real ale’ captures every beer worth being excited about, ‘craft beer’, however compromised and crap, is the current best alternative”, I can’t agree – not because I’ve got a better solution, but because I don’t believe there’s a problem.

No, ‘real ale’ doesn’t capture every beer worth being excited about; it never did. Not all great beer is real ale; not all real ale is great beer. If you want to talk about a great beer that doesn’t qualify as real ale, I can’t see what’s stopping you.