With the booming popularity of craft beer, it seems as though the term is everywhere. Entire walls at the local liquor store are designated “craft” and the supply only seems to be going up. But are all these craft beers really craft beers? Whatever happened to microbreweries, a term seldom used over the last few years. At times it can seem like an SAT question; if some beers are microbrews and some microbrews are craft brews are all the horses purple? It is an issue that has stirred up great controversy in recent times and many voices have added their two cents. So just to add to the noise, here’s another.
In some jurisdictions there are very set terms on what qualifies as as microbrewery and what can be considered craft beer. Some judge by the scale of production and by the ingredients used. Others insist a key factor is company structure, whether there is a high percentage of corporate ownership or is it strictly independent. There are also a plethora of advocacy groups out there, such as The Brewers Association in Colorado, that aim to determine and set standards for what can be classified as craft.
The simple conclusion is that it is a matter of beer taxonomy. All beer is beer. Some beer is from a microbrewery. Some microbreweries brew craft beer, but not all. The flaws in this line of reasoning are first that many craft brewers brew in such small batches they could hardly qualify as micro-brewers, and second that some beers that are are labelled “craft” can be traced back to major corporations. In the United States you can find beers like Shock Top which is marketed as craft beer but is actually brewed or rather owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev (aka Budweiser). In Canada, big brewers like Alexander Keith’s have stared putting out craft beer series like their “hop series”, trying to appeal to the more discerning customer.
The one key factor, though decidedly intangible and unquantifiable, is passion. Most craft beer is made for beer lovers by beer lovers for the love of making great beer. Many craft brewers would be brewing beer whether people bought it or not purely for the love of the craft. Can a big brewer, or for that matter a micro-brewer distributing at a national or larger scale, really be expected or even fully capable of putting as much love and care into each batch as a small batch craft brewer? In some cases, possibly, but over all no. Micro-brewers like Samuel Adams in the United States and Big Rock in Canada make quality beer that still blows big corporate beer out of the water but they can’t be expected to take the creative risks and put in the painstaking care of small batch craft brewers. Neither can craft brewers be expected to compete with the production demands of successful microbreweries.
Overall the true definition of a craft beer rests in a tricky grey area. The deciding factor must be the love, care, and attention put into each batch and every recipe. Are all micro-brews craft beers? No. Are all craft beers micro-brews? Possibly not. More importantly does it all really matter?
Once you label me, you negate me. – Søren Kierkegaard