The biggest misconception of the term ‘craft beer’ is that it is a definition that is necessary. It’s not. Good beer is good beer.
The next misconception is that a ‘craft revolution’ is only happening within the beer industry.
That snappy little term ‘craft’ is at play across all food and drink. I’m going to say that it has happened because of new technology and social media.* I’ll go back to this point to explain, but first, here’s the background.
We seek to understand
We like to know things, don’t we? We like to know, increasingly, what, where and how. We like to be ‘in the know’. We also like to know that the choices we make are good ones and that they matter. We really are very curious and nosey people indeed.
Over the past few years we, as a nation, have fallen back in love with ingredients and, with that, real food and drink.
We just want something that isn’t convoluted. We want simplicity. Something tangible. We want craft.
It’s really quite funny then that, paradoxically, the term ‘craft’ baffles so many.
Seeing an open goal with any new trend, it is natural for lots of companies to want to answer demand.
But when big brewers make what they call craft beer, sometimes a bit of the point of it gets lost along the way. Craft (as made by global brewers) is often a falsehood because despite the fact that they have (as they say) 'crafted' a beer, once all the 'route to market' preening is done, it becomes less about the beer and more about the presentation.
Often, so-called craft beer by big brewers is the no make-up selfie of the beer scene. It’s all: Hi, look at me, nothing to hide. Got a lens filter on that? Err, YEAH. *facepalm*
How do we explain to them that they've missed the point? Re-badging what they do as craft and putting average beer out there with the same moniker only serves to dilute and undermine the term. The more of this that is out there the fewer people will keep buying it. Now, we're at a stage where the really amazingly talented brewers prefer to ditch the term from their beers completely, because it's been hijacked. Plus, they are only interested in brewing beer that tastes really good.
This week, Pete Brown described global brewers asking if they could create craft beer and his response was enlightening.
What the big brewers don’t seem to understand is that people don’t want ‘process’ – they want simplicity, flavour and something they understand and can trust.
Strip out all of the need for approval and sign off from many tiers of higher management and what have you got? Something that you have created that still stands half a chance of being what it set out to be.
Something about too many cooks spoiling the broth. Or should that be on-trade & route to market directors spoiling beer? Who are these people and do they even know how beer is made?
Big businesses could learn a lot if they only thought more like small businesses. If they stopped assessing ways to chase success instead of simply knowing that they are creating something good. They all need to watch this.
How did we get to this point? I suppose, if we want to make the most of the craft revolution, we need to understand why it has happened in the first place.
Looking backwards while running
Across recent history as new technology enters the world, there is a renaissance as we struggle to come to terms with progression. People get nostalgic, romantic and yearn for the good old days. Rolling fields of green, long hair, nakedness, beautiful simplicity. Consider the Industrial Revolution and the art and poetry that emerged around the same time. Pre-Raphelite, Romanticism - all that. It serves to remind us that when the world starts moving forwards, we often revolt against it and crave the opposite.
Sure, we embrace it, but we often also like to offset it a bit too. We look for wholesomeness.
We might upgrade to an Apple 6s, but pop to a farmer's market for our groceries. There's a bit of guilt and reassurance there, isn't there?
These days, we have tablets. We have smartphones. We have HD and 3DR. We have social media. We have instant stardom talent shows. Everything is immediate. Because of this, we crave something real. Something we understand.
We crave 'craft'.
* At the same time, social media has changed the way we use brands to reflect our personalities. Social media has become the shop window to ourselves. We want people to like us, sure. But we want to like ourselves too. We don't want to feel bad about the consumer choices we make. Social media makes us a bit Narcissistic as well. It makes us want to present virtue as a commodity. Charitable donations become social media boasts. Craft purchases an ode to tastefulness and discernment.
Craft doesn't mean anything any more. Not if it is just a badge to wear to sell more of something to people all clambering to buy their piece of respectability.
So what do we all do with this? And what do the big brewers do to own their bit in the world of craft? How can people in pubs ride the craft revolution?
By remembering that it is what you actually do that counts.