What's a "Craft" Beer?

When I started this blog, I planned to write post that defined "craft" beer.  I never got around to doing it myself, but this guest post by Ann from the U.K., tackles the question.  Take it away Ann...

If you ask the average beer drinker, what’s the definition of craft beer the chances are that they won’t be able to tell you. That’s understandable as the definition officially given by the Brewer’s Association is vague, to say the least.

The Brewer’s Association is the trade body for craft brewers and states that a craft brewery must be small, independent and traditional. This is in order to differentiate between craft beer and the beer that is mass produced by the big breweries around the world.

Many of the big breweries have their own "premium" beer. Some say premium beers are defined by their higher alcohol content, others say they’re just a marketing ploy to sell more expensive beer. Last year in the UK, Foster’s brought out its gold beer. The company hopes to make Foster’s Gold a drink chosen by both sexes and has a new advertising campaign that features two Aussies, Brad & Dan, in different social settings with their bottles of Gold in hand.

In the States, craft breweries have to have an annual production of less than 2 million barrels of beer. However, within this ‘small’ category you have companies like Boston Beer, which is right up to this barrel limit and owns one per cent of the US market and at the other end of the scale, local brewers who produce fewer than a thousand barrels per annum.

The craft brewery must also be ‘independent’ – that means that if it is part-owned by a big brewery like Coors or Miller, that share of the company must be less than 25 per cent. The term ‘traditional’ is a little tricky to understand. The Brewer’s association says a traditional brewer has ‘an all malt flagship’ or uses ‘adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor’. Adjuncts are things such as corn and rice. The big breweries use adjuncts to lighten beer flavour and make the beer more palatable for the tastebuds of the masses.

There are many craft breweries in the UK which operate a certain production quantity limit - below the UK Progressive Beer Duty threshold of 5,000 hls.

The definitions of what is or isn’t a craft beer are a little convoluted, but for the average person wanting to try one, look for beers with names that include the words specialty, artisan, boutique, gourmet or microbrew. Once you’ve tasted a craft beer, you’ll understand the main difference between big brewery beers and craft beers is the depth and complexity of flavour you’ll only get with a craft beer.

Thanks for the explanation Ann!  In a recent post, Bill from It's Pub Night, suggested we do away with the term "craft beer" entirely. I like his argument, and I agree with him. So here's a toast to "good" beer, however you may define it.  Cheers!

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