What Does “Craft Beer” Mean Anyway?
Updated: Feb 15
Two small words that mean a mouthful - pun intended.
Hot topic on our craft beer tours in Crete, Greece,“What does craft beer mean anyway?”is a big question which I get asked by our guests on a regular basis.
Craft beer is quite different than regular, macro, commercial, or big beer in several ways.
All beer geeks have their own special definition of Craft Beer, making this topic best argued over a good pint of local brew! Here are some points to share with your fellow beer enthusiasts & keep the conversation brewing about: what makes craft beer CRAFT?
Let's dig in!
Contrary to mainstream beer hype, craft beer does NOT mean an IPA style, nor is it always bitter, nor is it a always good-tasting either! In fact, there are large-scale beers that taste much better than many craft beers I have tasted over the years.
Here are four helpful craft beer definitions to consider.
1. Definition of craft according to Merriam-Webster
CRAFT transitive verb : to make or produce with care, skill, or ingenuity
/ She is crafting a new sculpture
/ A carefully crafted story
2. The Brewers Association of the United States defines an American craft brewery as
“a small and independent brewer”.
According to them, a craft brewery must be:
SMALL: having a maximum annual production of 6 million barrels of beer (about 45 million pints or 364 olympic-size pools).
INDEPENDENTLY OWNED: only up to 25% controlled “by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.”
BREWERS: they must have a federally issued permit and, naturally, brew beer.
3. The awesome UK-based beer geeks at The Craft Beer Channel define craft beer as:
" Craft beer is a race to the top.
It is brewed with the intention of putting flavour and process above cost.
It can be innovative or traditional, served in any format, and does not have to come from an independent or small brewery – but it must not do damage to the industry’s reputation or any other brewery’s freedom to produce beer to the best of its ability. "
4. In my humble beer-geek & beer guide opinion, craft beer definition boils down to:
innovation, craftsmanship & mindset.
As early as brewing goes (arguably 6,000 years ago in Mesopotamia), brewers had little control over the magical process of fermentation & beer-making. Until the 1850's, humans didn’t know about microorganisms & active yeasts which are responsible for creating alcohol in beer. These clever people were therefore forced to find experimental ways to alter their recipes, to make them palatable & safe to drink.
Nowadays, innovation in brewing comes through the spectrum of new styles, re-inventing historic recipes, pushing the boundaries of flavours & always looking for ways to make the best beer possible.
Although most all breweries use machines, automation of their systems and some button-pushing, a craft beer can not be defined without the craft itself: the care for their process and product. A craftsman is someone proud of his/her work, passionate about their creations; one who is immersed in their work the same way Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Coco Channel were.
Craft beer was born in the 1970's as a counter-movement in the U.S.A. in opposition to beers made without soul or flavour, big-beer company solely concerned about profitability and commercial potential. Thank goodness for that change.
The ancestors of craft beer were tiny local breweries. Fresh beer served for the townspeople, by the townspeople. They were the building blocks of community, economy, politics and an essential social connector. Craft breweries support people. Not only do they provide a friendly place for people to gather and "take a load off", resolve issues, they also often collaborate with other brewers, local organizations, festivals, sports teams and fundraisers.
At the ownership level, there must be a spirit of togetherness, of “more is more” mentality, of give and take. It’s for the greater good of beer people and beer makers.
- This mindset can also apply to commercial breweries, which sometimes have more resources to care more for their community and make a positive impact.
- Be careful not to be fooled by the beer branding or bottle design. Just because it "looks craft" does not always mean that it is craft. There's a fair chance it could be owned by a soul-less multinational beverage company who only measure things in money.
Just Google the brewery and see beyond the marketing.