In the first two parts of this article, I argued that the term “craft beer” no longer had a worthwhile definition for most homebrewers and beer lovers. There was a time when the beer we liked was produced by breweries that were small, independent, and traditional. They were also frequently local. But all that has changed. So what can an average homebrewer do?
The Brewers Association (BA) needs to have a term to define the brewers under its umbrella. If they are going to advocate for craft brewers, they need to define craft brewers. So it’s fine to leave the current definition for use in relation to the work of the BA, and simply realize that it’s not useful for anything else. So what terms should brewers use when they want to talk about the breweries or beers they enjoy?
If you think about it, we really don’t need any new terms for this. There are a wealth of words every homebrewer and beer lover already knows that are very descriptive. If you are talking about the size of a brewery, you can describe it as a brewpub, a microbrewery, a small regional, or with any of several other well-known terms. Or, simply describe the brewery. For example, “They brew about 3,000 bbl per year and it’s all kegged. It’s only on tap at bars, not bottled.” These terms and descriptions are far more precise than labeling the brewery a craft brewery, which can mean anything from a mom and pop micro to a giant international brewery. With a few descriptive words, you could increase the precision of your description. For example, “it’s a brewpub that specializes in session ales,” or “it’s a micro that brews German-style lagers; they only distribute in 3 states.”
And if you’re concerned about the ownership of the brewery, throw in “independent” or not, as needed. For example, “It’s an independent brewpub. They started out on a 2 bbl system they cobbled together from dairy tanks,” or, “It’s part of a chain of brewpubs, owned by Malty Multinational, all the beer is brewed at a central location.”
Simply by stringing together existing terms for describing breweries, and throwing in an extra fact or or two, you can give a much better description of almost any brewery than simply labeling it a craft brewery.
But what about the beer itself? What if you want a term that means, very roughly, “beers of the general sort I like.” (If this were a comedy piece, I’d suggest just calling everything IPA and be done with it.) As with the size of a brewery, you probably know enough beer terms to describe what you like about a category of beers. And it doesn’t have to be complicated. For this purpose, I like the term “good beer.” And I don’t mean to define a new term along the lines of “real ale,” I simply mean the ordinary adjective “good” modifying the noun “beer.” It’s simple, and it focuses on what I think is important in beer — quality.
Of course, this is an entirely subjective term that would vary from person to person, but so what? As a homebrewer, all you need is a term that’s useful to you and that people you talk to can understand. It’s hard to misinterpret the intention of the phrase “good beer,” even if what qualifies as good beer might take some explaining. And if you need to, you can always clarify what you mean further. For example, when I say “good beer,” I mean beer brewed for people who are knowledgable about beer, and beer that is generally flavorful. I would contrast this with beers that I feel are brewed with the basic elements of beer, but toned down in an effort to give them mass appeal. (For whatever it’s worth, I think that “fizzy yellow lagers” have their place in the world, just as Wonder Bread, Big Macs, and Michael Bay movies do. However, these things are generally not prized by people who are knowledgeable about beer, bread, hamburgers, or movies.)
The author who originally defined craft beer used the term “true beer” synonymously. (He rejected “real beer” for it’s parallels to “real ale.”) And I would argue that individual brewers should start describing the beers they like with terms that hold some meaning to them. For me, I want that term to reflect on the quality of the beer, not other matters. Other brewers might show more interest in the beer being local, or from a small brewery, or from a new brewery, or . . . whatever. And, if what you really care about is whether Budweiser owns over 25% of the brewery making the beer, you can keep using the current definition of “craft.”