UK beer bloggers Boak and Bailey got some good conversation started last week with their post “Ten Signs of a Craft Brewery”; I’ll wait here while you go read it.
Back? Good. Although just catching on over the pond, “craft” is probably the most used and abused term in the world of beer stateside, and there is far from consensus as to its definition within the community. We’ve argued about it on these hallowed pages; Jeff Alworth at Beervana argues craft is beer brewed with a goal of “aesthetic character”. Here in the US, the Brewers Association defines craft as “small, independent, and traditional”, meaning:
Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.
Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.
I’d prefer not to surrender sovereignty of the word to an industry group with self-interest in making the term as broad as possible (I suspect no matter how large Boston Beer Company grows, there will be room in the Brewers Association craft tent for Boston Lager and the like). Rather, let’s use the Boak and Bailey approach that craft is not an industry designation but an ethos with identifying hallmarks; thus, I came up with a few items that help identify whether a brewery in question should be considered “craft”:
- The brewmaster at a craft brewery has a beard; the sales manager has a soul patch. Many times they are found on the same face.
- Craft brewers reserve the right to brew with corn ironically.
- Craft brewery packaging copy often contains the words “Artisanal”, “Hand-crafted” or “Small-batch” but never the words “Premium”, “Platinum”, or “Light”.
- Craft brewers don’t try to argue with a straight face that “small” means production of 6 million barrels a year or less.
- Craft brewers don’t try to argue with a straight face that “independent” mean publicly traded on the NYSE
- In craft brewing, a “Non-compete clause” refers to an agreement not to engage in drinking games at the brewery before 5 PM. It is generally considered as unenforceable as traditional non-compete clauses.
- The Marketing Department of a craft brewery is the brewmaster (unless he is so inherently insociable, the reins are handed over to a perky underling who works the Twitter account in exchange for beer).
- A craft brewery’s Design Department is typically a brewery employee’s cousin with dreadlocks and a penchant for patchouli oil, who took a couple Photoshop classes at junior college, and also works for beer.
- The legal team at a craft brewery is somebody’s weird uncle who mainly handles medical malpractice cases, looks like Saul Goodman, and also works for beer.
- Whenever a craft brewery is in completely over its head and “management” doesn’t know what to do, they always think what will be best for the beer- and then take it from there.
Hopefully this will help you identify craft breweries in your area. So Aleheads, what are some other tell-tale characteristics you look for in a craft brewery?