There is a word that is used often in the beer world, but means different things to different people and organizations. The use of this particular word has seemingly muddied the water of the industry, causing confusion, blind passion and confrontation. The word, of course, is craft.
The word craft has played an important role in reshaping the global beer industry landscape to how it is today. After the word microbrew fell out of fashion, smaller breweries needed a way to distinguish themselves from larger breweries. That goal has largely succeeded, and the craft segment continues to grow. A recent report says that the U.S. craft segment combined recently outsold the total volume of Budweiser. Sure, it took 3,000-plus breweries to tackle one giant, but it happened.
Overall, the word has become co-opted. While it is about beer, it’s also about marketing. Now the so-called big guys are in on the game, knowing that there is a trend these days toward small and local with certain products. That’s why we see brands like Blue Moon, owned by MillerCoors, using the term “Artfully Crafted” in advertisements. Conversely, Samuel Adams uses the line “For the Love of Beer” in its advertisements, with no mention of the word craft.
Now, here’s the tricky part. What does it mean?
For the Brewers Association (BA), a trade group, it means “promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts,” according to its mission statement. It has promoted the word craft and placed guidelines as to what craft means as a way to define its dues-paying members.
For some consumers and brewers, it’s the battle of “us vs. them,” with people saying that the larger breweries make “crap” or “poor-quality” beer. Nothing could be further from the truth. Those brewers use the same ingredients as smaller brewers to make the same final product: beer. And while some consumers are throwing stones at large corporations that make technically perfect beer, they give a pass to some smaller breweries that fall under the craft banner but make and release clearly infected or inconsistent beers. Why?
As a media company, we rely on using words properly. One year ago this magazine took the first step in limiting the word craft in our coverage. Our feature articles no longer differentiate between craft brewers and not because we don’t have a solid definition. As we’ve always done, we report the news of breweries around the world. All breweries. Of course we know this will not be universally recognized, so you can expect to see the word pop up from time to time in quotes, or when certain groups, like the BA, talk about membership, or in our business coverage, where craft is considered a specific sales segment. It’s our duty to cover that as represented, and we will.
One word shouldn’t be a dividing point. Ultimately, it should be about the beer in the glass, and whether it tastes good to the individual drinker. In the same way that the word microbrew is still batted around, we don’t honestly believe that the word craft will disappear anytime soon, but we do believe it’s time to have a conversation about what it really means. Is it a helpful word that makes beer better, or is it necessary at all?
There is a lot of passion surrounding this one word. And we believe it should be the right word, the beverage we cover, the one we enjoy. That’s why, as often as possible, we’re just going to call it beer.
This column appears in the March 2015 issue of All About Beer Magazine. Look for it on newsstands on Feb. 3 and subscribe here.
John is the editor of All About Beer Magazine and the author of three books, including The American Craft Beer Cookbook. Find him on Twitter @John_Holl.