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What Does “Craft Beer” Mean Anyway?

Updated: Mar 6


craft beer explanation what is craft beer neon sign
“What does Craft Beer mean?" is a heated topic of conversations in the beer world, as well as, on our craft beer tours in Crete, Greece.
To shed some light on this burning question, this article aims to demystify the definition of Craft Beer as a brewing phenomenon, where it comes from, what makes it unique and so beloved by many.

To begin, we must examine why and how the craft beer brewing movement emerged in the 1960's in U.S.A.'s Golden State: California. Craft Beer begun as a revolution to the profit-driven, big beer industry. Craft Beer's genesis was to make beer great again.



BEFORE CRAFT BEER

wheat barley close up beer history

For roughly 6,000 years, human beings have been brewing grains to access their spirituous virtues, socialize and trade. Brewing is directly linked with the birth of civilization and nomadic human tribes shifting into settlements. Emerging in Mesopotamia, ancient beer moved along to Egypt, crossed the Mediterranean Sea to mainland Europe, where brewing traditions thrived over the course of centuries (Germany, Belgium, England, the Czech Republic, Ireland amongst others).

pilsner beer greece

As for North America, beer was introduced in the 1800's by immigrants from Germany and Bohemia who arrived into The New World and arduously rebuilt their beer culture from scratch. By the mid-1800's, rich Munich-style lagers were commonplace and by the end of the century, the crisp Pilsner was the prevalent style at brewpubs.


During Prohibition in early 1900's, German brewers were forced to go underground and all alcohol was temporarily outlawed. Post-prohibition, beer production shifted away from fresh draft beer toward bottled brews. Innovators like Colonel Pabst, August Busch and the Schlitz brothers with visions of national distribution and hefty profit margins were finally able to realize their dreams thanks to industrialization, mechanization, the birth of the aluminum can and the refrigeration technology.

brewery fermenters stainless steel

This was the age of large national brands like Heinz, Folgers Coffee and Coca-Cola. Beer now could not only be brewed more efficiently, more consistently, on a large scale; it could also be shipped in refrigerated trucks from coast to coast. Brewing took an unprecedented commercial turn in North America like it had never experienced before.


Profits soared. Quality sunk. Flavour was trivial. Beer was cheap.



The birth of Craft Beer


California. 1960's and 1970's. Craft beer.

craft beer neon sign crete greece

This brewing revolution humbly began for the love of beer, as an opposition to Big Beer, an anti-thesis to the status quo. Pioneer brewers in various states of the time, such as Lagunitas, Anchor Brewing Company, New Albion Brewing Co., set out to make beer great again!

Local. Fresh. Interesting. Small scale.

Community driven. Flavour.


barrel aged beer craft beer

Beer history was taking a delicious turn. Craft beer with its connection to homebrewing, small-batch production, community spirit and valuing freshness and flavour above all, set off on its slow and steady path. First spreading North to Washington State, then from the West to the East Coast, craft beer determinately inspired new brewers through the 1970's, 80's and peaked in the mid 1990's across Colorado, New York, Illinois, Massachussetts, Vermont, Maine and many more states.

Craft brewers had to patiently and persistently educate bars owners, distributors, beer-drinkers and communities about fresh, unfiltered beer, unfamiliar flavours and styles like IPA's or barrel-aged beers. The movement took off thanks to breweries like Sierra Nevada, The Alchemist, Allagash, Russian River, Dogfish Head, Sam Adams, Boston Beer Company, Goose Island, Tree House, New Belgium, among (so many) more and their impact helped craft beer gain momentum in pubs, bottle shops and festivities across the country.


hops craft beer history

In parallel, hops (the lovely aromatic flower used in brewing) were being re-invented. Up until this point, hops were used for their preservative and bittering qualities; their aromass being besides the point. This all changed in Washington State with a hop breeding program by the Oregon State University. Through studies and experiments, they introduced new hop varieties with remarkable aromatic qualities (pine, fruit, citrus, bubble gum, dank, etc) and agricultural capabilities. Hello Cascade, Centennial, Simcoe and Mosaic hops!


greek beer map


CRAFT BEER IN GREECE


This wave of craft beer has been rippling across the world since the 1990's and early 2000's. Here in Greece, the first craft brewery emerged in 1997, followed by others in early 2000's and the movement exploded in 2017. We now count over 110 independent micro-craft-nomad breweries in the country!

Let it be known that Greek Craft Beer is top notch; Greece is a must-visit beer destination!

Taste buds across the globe are seeking new styles, unique flavours, cool branding, a community atmosphere and top quality beers.






What does craft beer mean?

Contrary to mainstream beer hype, craft beer does NOT mean the IPA style, nor is it always bitter, nor is it a always good-tasting either!

As previously mentioned, craft beer is about the love of beer. Here are four helpful definitions to consider.

beer pour what is craft beer definition

CRAFT : to make or produce with care, skill, or ingenuity

/ A carefully crafted story



This legendary association 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.

craft beer pour

The awesome UK-based beer geeks, 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. "



As far as my reserch and discussions have taken me, craft beer boils down to:

innovation, craftsmanship & mindset.

  • Innovative

As early as brewing goes, brewers have had little control over the magical process of fermentation. Until the 1850's when microbes were discovered and their function in beer-making, humans didn’t quite know what was responsible for creating alcohol.

Innovation in today's brewing comes through the spectrum of new styles, re-inventing historic recipes, cutting-edge technologies, imaginative ingredients, pushing the boundaries of flavours & always looking for ways to make the best beer possible.


  • Craftsmanship

Craft beer was born as an opposition to beers without soul. Passion drives craft brewers forward. Although most modern breweries use machines, automated systems and button-pushing, a craft beer can not be defined without the craft itself: the care for the process and product. A craftsman is someone proud of their work, passionate about their creations; the same way Mozart and Coco Channel were.

  • Mindset

beer tour crete greece happy cheers

Craft beer takes a page from beer production pre-industrialization, when fresh beer was made by the people for the people. 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 and projects.

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.



NOTES:

- This mindset can also be part of a commercial brewery, which sometimes have more resources to care more for their community and make a positive impact.

- Craft beer doesn't always taste good! Sometimes, it just doesn't work out.

- Be careful not to be fooled by the beer branding or bottle design! Just because it "looks craft" does not always mean 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.

Simply Google the brewery and see beyond the marketing.



 

Craft beer is important.

Craft beer is interesting.

Craft Beer has delicious potential.

Great Craft Beer is worth every penny.


Those are the types of beers we pick for our Craft Beer Tours in Greece.

We are changing the beer tasting menu often to welcome epic brews, for travellers to discover and enjoy!




Let us know in the comments below which is YOUR definition of craft beer??




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Love & beer!


- Bonnie




P.S. Here is what the awesome beer geeks The Craft Beer Channel have to say about it.







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2 Comments


Bonnie and Clyde Urban Tours
Bonnie and Clyde Urban Tours
Apr 13, 2023

Hear hear!!

Like

perryadamsyes
Apr 12, 2023

I mostly agree with these definitions of what craft beer means. I find the most important as you write is the MINDSET. The values for community and looking out for local people, building local employment and support is most important in craft.

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