As the craft beer movement has moved towards the mainstream something of a backlash has begun against those that champion it over the standard mass market alternatives. Indeed, the dismissive use of the term “hipster” is usually not too far from any commentary on the rise in popularity of the craft beer industry and products. To a degree, I am not 100% convinced that there are not indeed some hipsters among the following who’s sole purpose is to stand out from the rest of the beer drinking crowd, “as an individual” however, I would argue that the craft brewers of the world have awakened something in the average generic lager drinker beyond a desire to be different, otherwise the industry would not have persisted as it has. The thing that it has awakened, in my opinion, is a desire for something of quality, produced with attention to detail, that is a little different to everything else on offer and that is more simple in terms of ingredients (resulting in lesser hangovers!)…it is perhaps a question of taste?
But what is the definition of a craft beer…and does a strict definition actually matter to the drinker?
I’ve been thinking about doing this blog post and its contents for a while, stirred on by something local that I will come onto shortly but what actually encouraged me to write it was an article I spotted this week about a civil suit against the producers of Blue Moon. Without getting into the nuts and bolts of the argument, essentially someone is suing MillerCoors on the basis that Blue Moon is being positioned as a craft beer, where in fact it is produced by one of the worlds’ biggest brewers. Whilst, I get the argument that the “craft brewing” industry supports the little entrepreneur in producing a fine product let us be realistic about the ability for these brewers to become mass market and thus large brewers and employers in their own right! What the craft brewers of the world have done is to become a vehicle for the consumer sentiment by having a sufficient enough impact on the bottom lines of the major brewers by re-introducing a high quality, different, and great tasting fresh competitive force that has caused them to rethink the policy of churning out only volumes of generic industrial and bland product aimed at as big a possible audience and their actions in addressing this should commended because it brings about better quality and selection for all beer drinkers.
Enter the big boys…
In the interests of full disclosure, I will openly admit that whilst I am a big fan of the micro brewers products I am also quite partial to the non-generic-lager outputs of the major brewers too. The major brewers have not been slow to react to the growing craft beer market by introducing their own alternatives and this is what prompted me to write this entry in the first place. What we have seen in the Irish market in recent years is a move by Diageo, the big market incumbent, to rollout a variety of craft style beers through the likes of Smithwicks Pale Ale, Smithwicks Blonde, Guinness Dublin Porter, Guinness West Indies Porter…to name but a few. As verified advertising geniuses they have also used their considerable financial muscle to rollout a beautifully crafted TV advertising campaign that strikes all the right notes in terms of the things that a craft brewer should stand for, namely, personal attention to detail in production, the virtues of family, and subtlety in their product outputs in terms of flavours and different target markets. A little cynical in their approach….possibly (probably)….but it does come back to core argument here, “What actually matters to the drinker?”
I would argue strongly that what matters to the drinker is the high quality and variety of the product and if the major brewers can lend some of their considerable weight (and production capacity) to making that happen then all the better. Let’s not forget, that Guinness have actually been one of the much maligned pioneers of attempting to diversify the drinkers palates and product mix on offer in Irish bars for more than 30 years at this stage, from Guinness Light to Breo, Guinness Draught Bottles, The Brewhouse Series (Brew 39, Toucan…) to Guinness West Indies Porter. I say much maligned because the products invariably disappear into obscurity within months however it would be difficult to argue against their credentials as a producer of consistently high quality product on a global scale and the depth of their experience.
So to answer my question, does it matter if a beer is “craft beer” or not by definition of who produced it? I would argue that it doesn’t matter at all to most ordinary punters, what matters is that the emergence of a sizeable craft brewing industry has, provided diversity for the the palates of the beer drinking community, and also forced the larger brewers to take note of changing consumer behaviours and demands and put renewed focus on quality of the product that they are producing….and that is in everyone’s favour!
For the record, Dublin Porter gets a 4/5 and Smithwicks Pale Ale 4/5 too!