“For several years now, beer hijacking has been an issue for small and independent commercial brewers. They’ve been working hard to differentiate themselves from very large brewing companies that offer special beers and would prefer that beer drinkers believe that their beers come from small and independent breweries. Speaking for myself, this is a turnoff. The beer is probably great quality, but the marketing is deceptive and erodes the perception of credibility.”
“I’m the only thing standing between the death of Irish music and … and … the life of Irish music. Hss hss hss hss!”
One of these is a quote from an op-ed piece in the New Brewer on the need for a clear, commonly-understood definition of “craft beer,” and the other is a quote from the Shane MacGowan biopic If I Should Fall from Grace.
Longtime readers will recognize your author’s abiding soft spot for the Pogues. I went to see If I Should Fall from Grace at the Oak Street Cinema back in the day and bore witness to the on-camera intoxication, the awesome music and terrible dentition, the dictionary pictures of codependent enabling enacted for those 90 minutes upon the big screen, and the above quote (whichever one it is) stuck with me down all these days. In particular, its outsized hubris … that maddening but vital hubris required to make art. Or, I think, beer.
Here’s where I think hubris gets us in to trouble, though: when it starts assuming responsibility for things it doesn’t need to be responsible for, when it becomes self-appointed arbiter of the cause instead of defender or promoter.
In the 1970s in the UK, CAMRA (the Campaign for Real Ale) was a vital proponent of traditional breweries and pub culture in an age of consolidation, closure, and the watering down of England’s indigenous beer styles. It was a vehicle for education, awareness, and preservation. Today it’s arguably best known for quibbling over the definition of “real ale” and bitching about beers dispensed with CO2 instead of a handpump.
I’ve written before about the moveability of the official definition of “craft beer” and its seemingly arbitrary exclusions of breweries like August Schell (here’s the Cliff’s Notes for non-Minnesotans: second oldest family-owned brewery in the US, emphasis on European lager styles, and … they use adjuncts in their flagship [sad trombone]).
I’ve always found it problematic that stylistic exemplars like Guinness and Pilsner Urquell are not “craft beers.” I feel like bagging on Budweiser or Coors because of their position in the industry but wearing Nike or using Apple products seems like a giant glass house. Please understand I’m not making apologies for our various corporate overlords, but I feel like it’s time to learn from CAMRA and take it up a notch in terms of maintaining relevance.
Here are a couple more (telling, I think) quotes from the New Brewer piece:
The term “craft” is not about snobbery or being an elitist as some have suggested. It is not a claim about the quality of the beer. It is about giving the beer drinker a tool to identify who makes the beer they enjoy.
The point that the definition of craft brewer tries to establish is not about using the word “craft” literally. “Craft brewer” is an idea.