Craft blahft… I’m struggling with this whole “craft” thing. I guess it was inevitable that within the UK the word itself would grow beyond a core of beer lovers and become the plaything of markers and salesfolk. We did want success for the beer we loved. The general response to the supposed exploitation and uncertainty is split between “we must have a definition of craft beer in order to protect craft beer” and “MEH!“. A majority of beer lovers I know seem to be in the latter camp, or close to. I’ve thought far too much about this, and especially about what I mean when I use the term… and I’m trying to use it a lot less now. But this is hard because I’ve used it for a good while now, with my own idea of what I mean – and at the same time it has become a key word in UK beer jargon – not merely uttered by nerds, but showing up in national media, and even mainstream mindrot. We seem to be stuck with “craft beer”.
At the end of the day… what does it mean to me… a mere drinker? What do I want out of beer in the UK and the growing “scene” I enjoy? Quite simple: more beer! But not more of a specific beer. The idea that led me and many others to this whole “craft” thing was not some concept of a supreme beer. To take a prominent example: Punk IPA. It’s great, I’m happy to drink a pint of it, or a half, or a twird (the word “schooner” can bugger off). But drink it all the time? Gawd… how dull. I really don’t think that’s any different to drinking Carling all the time, or Greene King IPA. This is exactly the sort of “monoculture” situation that the supposed “craft beer revolution” was supposed to tear the world away from – right? Now, I don’t mind if you do drink nothing but Punk IPA religiously, nor Fosters for that matter (just don’t call it bloody Australian, thanks). But then you are likely “not one of us” – where “us” is what I think of as “craft beer drinkers”. This does not mean I’m always on the hunt for something new. In fact I’m quite happy drinking nothing but beers I know and love all week… preferably so long as there’s a few different ones. It is about diversity – styles, flavours, beers, breweries – as much diversity as possible. The late, great, Simon Johnson said it all with this nom-de-plume “Reluctant Scooper” – if I see something new I feel an inexorable draw to give it a chance, it might be amazing.
Now – turn to bars, pubs, whathaveyou… put Punk IPA on a keg font as a permanent offering and say you have “craft beer”. Eh… OK. I’ll enjoy some every now and then. No doubt, to me, it is huge upgrade compared to your usual keg stuff. Put it next to your ever-rotating 10-cask-ale line-up… I’m not really going to drink much of your so-called “craft beer”. In fact you were probably already doing “craft beer” rather well. Ah, definitions, confusion breaks in. An unchanging line-up of good UK brewery keg beer does not a “craft beer bar” make, in my mind it isn’t really even a “craft beer” selection at this point. Same-old-same-old, good beer it may be. But I’m bored.
Epiphany! This whole thing… it isn’t about the beer, the brewery, or the brewer. A given beer isn’t _craft_, neither a given brewer or brewery – there is no magic “craft fairydust” that makes a beer worth drinking. A given beer may be good, may be bad – to you, to me, it’s subjective. In summer, in the sun, having a BBQ… I really love a few bottles of Hoegaarden. I like the flavour, it tastes good. It’s owned by AB InBev… do I care? Nope, don’t give a rat’s arse. Craft is a drinking experience – and that experience is defined by diversity. A single beer simply cannot be an embodiment of “craft” – craft isn’t a thing like that. (Oh, and get over the AB InBev thing already, they’re not fucking Mordor – nor Nazi Germany in World War II. It’s just BEER FFS.)
What’s the “craft beer” life, what’s the “craft beer venue”? I have 20+ different beers in my house at any one time. Some just a single bottle, but sometimes I’ll have a whole case of a single beer. Some of these beers will be made by tiny British micros, others will be made by big Belgian breweries, same will be made by breweries owned by massive multinationals, some are even homebrew – but, to be honest, at the moment AB InBev are more reliable for a good beer than my homebrew (I am working on it though!).
Craft in a pub? It’s the same: DIVERSITY. Got cask ale? Keep your range changing and span many styles. Got keg beer? Do the same! IDEALLY, HAVE AND DO BOTH! And I don’t even mind if you have cask Green King IPA as a permanent and keg Fosters as a permanent – I know people who love them – but for me, so long as you also have an ever-changing diversity of other beers of both formats I’m happy and you’re doing it right.
Craft in a brewery? Aside from the proper use of the word as a verb, the word “craft” is not a brewery descriptor. It isn’t a trait. It isn’t a thing. Craft is an experience – and that experience is had by the drinker. Are you having a craft experience? It is diversity – the true opposite to the monoculture we are supposed to rally against.
Breweries: keep doing the good shit. Pubs: shape up, mix it up. Play the field. Swapping Guinness for Black Isle Porter or Meantime Stout is laudable, I salute you – but if that’s all you do you’re really not exciting me. Meantime tweeted today that they produced 52 different beers this year – GET THEM. Think wine-bar, but with beer. Variety & change. Beer is an experience. HIT ME WITH IT.
My experience of good beer, enjoying beer, appreciating beer, “craft beer” – it’s all about diversity. I don’t read the same book over and over again, I don’t watch the same film over and over again, I don’t drink the same wine over and over again, I don’t eat the same food over and over again – vive la différence! I enjoy difference. I demand the same from my beer. BE DIVERSE.
Call it “craft” if you will… no doubt I’ll keep using the word at times – but what I mean is…
Beer diversity is the key.
I think an ever changing selection of interesting styles is what separates a from <a>. Both have their place. The Cambridge Blue is the former, the Kingston Arms is the latter. Would you agree?
“a”? Blue is verging on what I consider appropriately diverse – and getting better. Though I still can’t help but walk in there and feel disappointed by the cask list… which is crazy given the number of beers. He doesn’t quite pin down the “style” diversity somehow… They need up open up their keg selection a bit too – why all imports?
I class these together as pretty good on the cask+keg front now: Blue, Cambridge Brew House, Mill (not got a handle on the Blue Moon yet).
PintShop currently tops my list for “doing it right” on the beer front.
Kingston is a “could do better” – or maybe should be squeezed into the list. TBH I actually tend to be happier with the Kingston cask range than the Blue’s – same for the Maypole-vs-Blue in fact. Blue’s probably 4th or 5th in my cask ale ladder – just above the Milton pubs, because they seriously need to work on their diversity. (I was last in the Blue last week… but that said, I very rarely venture in there these days. Two or three times this year perhaps.)
All that said – my favourite pub in Cambridge is solidly the Live & Let Live. About 5 cask ales, top condition, almost always Green Devil, often Citra, always a stout-type beer. Plus a bitter/best-bitter or two (still often Umbel Ale?). All cask, but as diverse as it can be for the custom – I’ll label that “craft”. The “craft” of the brewer translated to your mouth in perfect form thanks to the “craft” of good cellarmanship. Hard to beat, even without an exciting keg lineup.
The html got messed up somehow. It was meant to say: I think an ever changing selection of interesting styles is what separates a craft beer pub from pub that sells craft beer.
Quite. With my position being that calling a beer “craft” is pretty meaningless & very subjective in the UK context anyway (and I think the US definition isn’t helpful) – so really the pub/bar/offie is where “craft” (the UK scene) is manifest.
Q: What’s the difference between a pint of craft beer and a pint of non-craft beer?
A: about £2.
When I visited, The Blue Moon had 3 cask ales and about 10 interesting kegs on – including stuff like Black Rocks from Buxton. Whether that is a conscious move or whether they simply haven’t got round to putting more handpumps in yet I don’t know.