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Fuzzifying the Boundaries of Craft

In my Beer 101 column this month (which you can read here), I continue my ongoing musings about what defines craft beer as craft. It is the second part of a series looking at the definition of craft (the first part is found here). This month I look at rules a beer or brewery ineligible to use the term craft.

I start by dissecting the debate about ownership and size. Just because it is owned by AB-Inbev, does that necesarily mean it is not craft? I come down on the side of, no. Also implied in that line of argument is that even if the beer is MADE by one of the big boys, that doesn’t necessarily mean it won’t be craft. Of course they haven’t yet produced a beer themselves that I would classify as craft – but there is always the possibility.

After that I begin circling around the issue of honesty and integrity. I make the easy pot shots at Minhas, but in this column I wanted to draw out the complexities of even the issue of marketing honesty. To do so, I single out a couple of examples of great breweries offering less-than-accurate labeling or marketing. Yes, I even pick on our good friends at Half Pints – for naming their wonderful kolsch a pale ale.

I highlight that, and other examples, not to admonish, but to make the point that the beer world defies simple categories. There is no way we can come up with a tight, consistent set of rules to decide who gets to be included in the “craft” club. I think where I finally end up is saying that, first, you need to judge a brewery on its full body of work – that one beer or advertising campaign shouldn’t define an entire brewery. Second, I think I suggest that defining craft is as much about gut feel as it is about official criteria. Craft beer just feels like craft. We may debate some of the fringes, but most of us would agree on what beer are craft and what aren’t.

Anyway, I say some other stuff in the column too, which you can read if you wish.


3 comments to Fuzzifying the Boundaries of Craft

  • Chris

    I had someone ask me if I thought Unibroue was still craft even though Sapporo owns them. Not that I’m qualified as some authority figure on this argument, but I figured that since the beer didn’t start to taste like an adjunct lager with time, than they were still ok. Plus, they haven’t exactly remained stagnant. Seeing 17 re-released, and stuff like Blonde-De-Chambly and Eau Bénite come out in recent years confirms that, for me, even if some of these are simply re-releases (in to the Edmonton market anyway), there is still some form of innovation taking place. Some people may not agree with that, or find that the yeast profile or something is too similar in all of the beer, but like you mention, personal palate preferences can’t really be an adequate marker of craft-ness.

  • LuskusDelph

    Beer making itself is a craft. As ;overs of beer with rel character we sometimes forget that fact.
    It’s all about what is in the glass and what your taste buds pick up on.

    The size of the brewery has nothing to do with it…and in fact there are now some truly excellent craft offerings starting to emerge from some of the big brewers these days.

    The next few years are going to be very interesting ones for beer lovers as some of the bigger players finally demonstrate what they are
    really capable of!
    And if the products are truly good, they deserve the same consideration as artisanal products.

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