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12-06-2012, 11:40
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The good old craft beer definition thing keeps rearing its head. There are people that don’t see the need to define it. Sometimes this seems to be because they feel comfortable with what they see as craft and wonder why there is a fuss at all. Some people, it seems, feel that beer is just beer and we shouldn’t try to differentiate.

I can find good reason to hook with these synergies; on the one hand I know what I class as craft and what I don’t, and on the other appreciate that the world of beer is broad, and even that which I dismiss as not craft still deserves a worthy place in the broader sense.
But still, the desire is still there to attempt a demarcation. We all have the need to assign to a club, a clan, our tribe that defines our inner sense of being. Our own individual need to say “this is who I am and these are the people with whom I belong”

Despite this obvious need to define ourselves it is unlikely that we will ever find the answer. What you feel is worthy, dear drinker, of being part of your craft world will always differ to mine. We should not be afraid to admit to this and remember that whilst we can discuss, argue and perhaps occasionally get annoyed with each other over what we feel is right, the fact that we all care about it is proof that it matters enough.

Momentarily I shall remove myself from the abstract and consider a practical point of view. I make and sell beer. I need a way to put across how the beer I sell differs from the other beer that customers could buy from other brewers.

To allow me to explain I will apologise in advance for in part being a little derogatory about beer that I don’t make, but could, at least in the eyes of some, still be classed as craft. I am, of course, referring to cask beer, made as inoffensive as possible, to appeal to as broad an audience as possible and brewed mainly to the cost constraints laid down by accountants. Made by people who might well be brewers, and may well be quite technically competent and indeed, far more competent than me, but have had all the flair and imagination knocked out of them by financial targets imposed by men in suits. It might be cask and it might be local, but it isn’t exactly what you would call inspirational.

I can hear a sigh “There you go again Dave” will come a comment “Why can’t you just say what is good about your beer, rather than condemn other beers” and the reason is quite simple; comparison. The people who like, and drink everyday the beers I am describing are content with what they drink. If they are happy then that is all good to me. Equally, it is important for me to say that this is not the sort of beer I wish to make. Partly by saying this it helps me to apologise to the people who don’t like what I brew, and to define what the people who like my beer might drink.

To this end one definition of craft beer is that which has flavours, strengths, aromas and presentation that steps far away from the criteria needed for the common man. Perhaps it is hopped to hell, or is 10%++ or has some crazy adjunct flavour that just shouldn’t be in beer. Perhaps, as I saw one commentator write, brewed in the American style.

You can say these things, and more. I would like to offer one other asset of craft beer. One that seems to ring through all others; Craft beers have a real story behind them. Real personalities. Real people. People who care about touching base with the drinker who buys the beer. People who’s inspiration shines through not only in the beer itself but also the fact that they take time to communicate what the beer is about. People who are not just influenced by accountants, and shareholders who care only about their dividend, but are also influenced by wanting to inspire the drinker.

http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-zWWfTzMGeok/T9cm3m1QycI/AAAAAAAABFk/OLtGPFljo88/s320/JohnKeelingEE.jpg (http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-zWWfTzMGeok/T9cm3m1QycI/AAAAAAAABFk/OLtGPFljo88/s1600/JohnKeelingEE.jpg)

John Keeling, me and The English Experiment at The Rake

I am writing this sat on a train to Euston Station. We have already sent a cask to The Rake Bar. John Keeling, Alex and I made a beer a few weeks back and we called it The English Experiment (http://hardknott.blogspot.co.uk/2012/06/english-experiment.html). One thing is for sure, after John’s expenses to travel up to Cumbria and my expenses for today are taken into account, this beer is making a substantial loss financially, at least for this batch. If we brew a lot more of it we might well make money. If so, can we still call it the same beer if John isn’t there to wave his Fullers’ magic?

Rhetorical, is the answer for now. Making money, directly at least, was not the point of the exercise. Obviously, we hope that the PR will be mutually beneficial to both our enterprises.

We hope that this transparent and public show of what the comradeship within inspirational UK brewers can mean will strengthen my point that in part, beer is about people. From the people who load the grist case, dig out the mash tun, scrub the copper, fill the casks, run the bottling line, analyse the results, sell the beer, buy the beer and of course, drink the beer, it’s about the people.

People, personalities, emotions, fun and fears, and many, many more human factors are what, in my mind, makes craft beer more than any other definable quality.

Because of that, we will never define craft beer, nor should we be able to. The people and the personalities who make it will, in themselves, continue to discuss for a very long time what it means. It is good that we do, I’m happy that we do, because it shows we are human.


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