In between beer, pubs, cider, bacon rolls and fish and chips, British beer author and consultant Pete Brown has succeeded in documenting his thoughts on the essence of the craft beer industry.
We interviewed Brown at the Brewers Forum 2023, held in Prague and hosted by the Brewers of Europe. Brown spoke at a panel on the craft beer definition along with Paul Lefebvre, CEO and owner of Brasserie Lefebvre; Michal Voldřich, who is one of the founders of the Czech and Moravian Microbreweries Association; and Ramsay Wells, founder of Pato Brewing in Portugal.
Craft: An Argument contains Brown’s thoughts on why the term ‘craft beer’ is “completely undefinable, hopelessly misunderstood and absolutely essential”. The term encompasses microbreweries, independent breweries, nano-breweries and some people such as Michael Jackson have even called them ’boutique’ breweries.
The use of the word ‘craft’ for the smaller breweries has been around for some time. Brown quotes Vince Cottone and Jackson as starting to use the term in the early 1980s.
Cottone, a US beer writer, described a craft brewery as a “small brewery using traditional methods and ingredients to produce a handcrafted, uncompromised beer that is marketed locally. I refer to this beer as True Beer, a detailed definition and description of which appears in the following section”.
He rejected the term ‘microbrewery’ as arbitrarily defined by the amount produced annually (10,000 barrels at that time).
Brown notes however that many craft breweries have broken that definition by experimenting with a wide variety of methods and ingredients. Some, like Sierra Nevada, Brooklyn Brewery, Samuel Adams, Flying Dog and Duvel have long broken through into selling bigger volumes. And some of the other ingredients in Cottone’s definition no longer apply to many on the scene today.
The US Brewers Association has thrown out the term ‘traditional’ in its 2020 update to the definition. Small is now six million barrels or less per year; a non-craft beverage alcohol industry member can only own less than 25% of the brewery and they must be registered with the US Treasury TTB arm as a brewer.
Brown argues that independence alone does not define the craft brewer, although an independent beer scene is important to the sector. Skill and creativity, quality, autonomy and motivation are by themselves not a definition of craft beer as none of these characteristics can be measured.
“That’s the whole point of craft,” he says.