More on the term ‘craft beer’…

I attended the recent CAMRA Members Weekend and was interested to note that “CAMRA recognises the term “craft beer” as describing beers with distinctive flavour brewed by artisans. Most real ales are craft beers but not all craft beers are real ale.” (CAMRA External policy Document, 2013-2014, para.3.8). The Oxford English Dictionary defines artisan as: “A worker in a skilled trade, especially one that involves making things by hand” with the modifier: “(Of food or drink) made in a traditional or non-mechanized way using high-quality ingredients.”

Hence, according to this CAMRA definition, ‘most real ales’ are brewed in a ‘non-mechanised way.’ This is clearly nonsense, (virtually) all brewers use some form of mechanisation as part of the brewing process. CAMRA needs to think again regarding this definition.

The American Brewers Association has also recently updated their definition of “craft brewer.” Before the update, their definition was, “A brewer who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.” Now: “A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.” The new definition allows brewers to use virtually anything (including corn or rice) and still be considered “craft.” Interestingly, the Americans do not define either ‘traditional’ or ‘craft beer’ – perhaps they agree, that as their definition of a ‘craft brewery’ becomes ever more wider, ‘craft beer’ has become a meaningless marketing term?

To take one example: our local supermarket sells ‘Hatherwood, Ruby Rooster,’ (3.8% abv) described, on the label, as ‘Craft Ale.’ The label reverse states that it ‘has been traditionally craft-brewed using Burton water, 100% British barley and a blend of Pale, Crystal & Chocolate malts.’ The only other clue to the brewer is the London address of the supermarket – Lidl Uk GmbH. After research, I discovered Ruby Rooster is a product of that well-known ‘craft brewer,’ Marstons plc ……. the price of this ‘Craft Ale’ is 99p for 500 ml, perhaps an indication of the quality of the ingredients?

Regarding quality of ingredients, Brewdog have recently opened a new bar on Division Street. The tiling is not yet finished but high abv ‘craft keg’ beers are available at over £4 for 2/3 of a pint. At these prices, the ingredients need to be the highest quality possible.

To summarise, ‘craft beer’ remains a meaningless term, perhaps it’s a phrase we should stop using?

Dave Pickersgill

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Andy Cullen

About Andy Cullen

Andy has been actively involved in CAMRA since the early 2000s after being recruited to sit on a National Younger Members Task Group. Since then he has held roles on the branch committee including Secretary, Membership Secretary, Magazine Editor, Chair and now Social Secretary. Andy has also been involved with the Steel City Beer & Cider Festival almost every year since becoming active in the branch.

2 comments

  1. Recently I visited the new Lidl supermarket in Maryport Cumbria. Where I bought several bottles of Hatherwoods beers and their lager.
    The Golden Goose Ale (3.8% abv) cost me 89 pence for a 500ml bottle.
    The Ruby Rooster Ale (3.8% abv) cost me 89 pence for a 500ml bottle.
    The Amber Adder Ale (4.3% abv) cost me 119 pence for a 500ml bottle.
    The Green Gecko IPA (5.0% abv) cost me 119 pence for a 500ml bottle.
    The Purple Panther Porter (5.0% abv) cost 119 pence for a 500ml bottle.
    The Gnarly Fox Lager (4.5% abv) cost me 119 pence for a 500ml bottle.
    At these sort of prices I wasn’t expecting a lot. But I was gobsmacked as to how good they are. There again on reading the small print on the bottle labels it sort of started to make sense.
    The Golden Goose and Ruby Rooster labels quote their head brewer as being Jeff Drew. Who I’ve discovered is also the head brewer at the Ringwood Brewery. Likewise Amber Ale and Green Gecko have head brewers named Tom Spencer and Simon Yates who are head brewers at the Banks Brewery. And finally the Purple Panther Porter is credited to Jeremy Pettman who is the head brewer at the Jennings Brewery.
    I would love to know how the equation works out. I mean the ingredients, the brewing costs, the beer duty, the breweries mark up, transportation costs and finally what’s in it for Lidl.
    Don’t get me wrong. At these prices and this quality. I’m well happy.

    1. Ringwood, Banks and Jennings all have something in common – they are owned by Marstons…

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