For a while there was micro-brewed beer. Back in the bad old days when American beer was brewed almost exclusively by a few big industrial breweries a some brave entrepreneurs set out to brew full-flavored beer with hops and malt that you could taste and they started a revolution in American beer. Some of them, like Sam Adams even got really big and the original name for these upstarts, micro-breweries, just didn’t seem to fit any more. Somebody, probably in marketing, decided that there must be a better name to capture the brewers and the full-flavored results and the term craft beer was born.
The Brewer’s Association is the primary U.S. trade group representing “craft beer.” Today, they’re the ‘somebody, probably in marketing’ who argues what gets to be called a craft beer at what doesn’t. Craft brewers are “small, independent, and traditional,” according to the group’s definition. That means they produce fewer than 6 million barrels a year—it used to be 2 million until Samuel Adams maker Boston Beer (SAM) got too big to qualify.
What do consumers think when they hear “craft beer?” If they’re like me, they want a beer that’s brewed with quality from authentic, honest ingredients. If the brewer wants to make a case why he’s adding rice adjuncts to the beer and cold filtering and whatever else, well, it may end up tasting like an old-school American beer, that is bland and uninteresting, but, well, isn’t it still a craft beer…an honest recipe and intent? It’s not like craft beer has to mean hoppy, or strong, or big, or malty, or flavored, or spiced, or even tasty. Craft beer means something different to consumers as it does to those who brew it. The the brewers it means small brewery, because most of them are and it’s a competitive market where they need all the help they can get. To consumers, it’s most likely meant to distinguish it in flavor and character from bland beers of the American 1970s. Of course, what do you do with a craft beer that tastes like a bland 1970s American lager, or a ‘macro-brewer’ who turns around and makes a great “craft beer?”
As you can read from the link above, “craft beer” has really become a protectionist label used to discourage good beer simply because the brewer has the foolishness to take a paycheck from a big brewery. This is just wrong. Back when Anchor Steam, Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and Redhook were all but alone fighting against the juggernaut of Mill-coors-weiser, they weren’t just fighting for their survival in the market place, they were fighting for the survival of good beer and all that can mean. If Miller Coors is now helping to support that cause by brewing tasty beer under the name “Blue Moon” instead of Coors, haven’t they actually won that battle?
Beer consumers need a new name to distinguish their desire for a delicious, flavorful beer. And when that name is co-opted by folks who want to use it as a false armor against competition, well, we’ll just have to think of a yet another name. The great news, judging by both the number and variety of full-flavored beers at this year’s Great American Beer Festival, whether they were from traditional craft brewers, or the latest entrants into the category: Coors, and Budweiser, is that we’ve finally won this battle for good beer!