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03-11-2015, 09:47
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A small, artisanal craft brewery

Last month, Reuben Grey of The Tale of the Ale (http://www.taleofale.com/2015/10/journalism-101-craft-beer-does-not.html) complained about lazy journalists making a connection between the Irish craft beer sector and “hipsters”. A very fair point, although perhaps they are just doing a read-across from the English craft beer scene, which in parts, especially in London, is distinctly hipsterish. This fails to recognise that Irish craft beer actually has much more in common with the USA.
Within the post, he also makes this important point:
Before the industrial revolution, all beer was craft beer. It was produced locally using local ingredients and sold to local people. After industrialisation and the amalgamation of most breweries in to large brewing conglomerates, craft beer persisted in a small regional way in some countries but was wiped out entirely in most. Ireland was one of those countries. By the 1980s, only the big three remained and it wasn't until the late 90s that we saw our first independent breweries start to open again.
Since big beer only started a few hundred years ago, but humans have been brewing beer for at least 5000 years and probably longer, which brewing process do you think is actually the fad? The 5000+ year old small scale, small batch, independent brewing or the 200 year old industrial scale brewing? Getting back to the infographic: Compressing the earth’s history in to 46 hours shows commercial beer is 1 minute old and craft beer is a few hours.Actually, brewing was one of the earliest processes to be industrialised, as it doesn’t really need complex machinery or much mechanical power. You simply need to hoist malt and pump water up to the top, and then gravity will do the rest. The Great London Beer Flood (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/London_Beer_Flood) of 1814 clearly shows that by then beer was being produced on a truly industrial scale.
Over the years, more and more beer was produced in big industrial plants, but small-scale brewing did linger on. The period from the end of the Second World War to 1970 saw a huge attrition of both home-brew pubs and small, independent commercial brewers, but there were still a fair number around at the birth of CAMRA. By any standards, the four surviving home-brew pubs and small operations like Paine’s, Donnington and Batham’s would surely qualify as “craft”.
The normal sense of the word “craft” in British English is reflected in the terms “handcrafted” and “craftsman”. It implies small-scale production, individual skill, an absence of automation and a high level of hands-on human involvement. It will probably use mostly locally-produced raw materials, with a minimum of intermediate processing. It doesn’t have to be rooted in tradition, although it may well be. It’s E. F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful in practice. It is artisanal in the proper sense of the word, although I hesitate to describe it as such, given that the term is generally used nowadays to describe “a job now done by a middle-class person that used to be done by a working-class person”.
But we now have a situation where “craft beer” is used to mean something entirely different – brewers who are knowing and self-aware, and who brew beer that is deliberately iconoclastic and innovative in terms of style, strength and ingredients. BrewDog has grown into a substantial industrial brewery, but it is still widely regarded as the acme of “craft”, whereas long-established micro-breweries like Cotleigh and Banks & Taylor, and the surviving small family breweries, are dismissed as old hat, boring and nothing to do with craft. And hops flown half-way around the world are seen as essential ingredients.
The term “craft beer” was only brought into general use because many new breweries in the US had become far too big to credibly call themselves “microbreweries”. Applied to the very different brewery scene here, it’s strange how its meaning has come to be pretty much entirely turned on its head. Maybe it would be more honest if it was called something else entirely, like “new-wave beer”.

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