"What lager do you have?" said the stranger in town, who was obviously having difficulty with the array of handpulls on the bar. I know I shouldn't really butt into the job when there are perfectly good bar staff there to help, but I'd prefer he chose a "craft" lager, rather than some macro-brewed tasteless beer made by some huge multi-national corporation who use sexist TV adverts in prime time screening.
"There is Hawkshead Lager" I ventured. Well, Hardknott don't really do a lager, and even our closest options of Lux Borealis or Duality had given way to Azimuth on the bar on this occasion, which I had already been tucking into, and was probably helping the fluidity of my verbal communications at the expense of tact.
"It's not a cloudy wheat beer is it?" I can't help myself in these situations "do you drink with your eyes?" I asked without thinking, and with far more sarcasm than the poor gentleman deserved.
I did proceed to explain that it was a very good lager and that it was indeed quite bright and on good form.
I am quite sure that any hazy beer to this gent would have been classed as one of those trendy types of Craft Beer. Assuming of course that he had heard of the concept of craft beer. I'm sure to him craft are the slightly wonky hand thrown vases seen at car boot sales punted by people who have a notion that they might one day make a living at their own passion. Or perhaps to him the artisanal rag woven bed-spreads that no-one really likes to buy, but have been painstakingly made, by hand, for some very worthy local charity.
He very probably prefers the security of consistency gained from mass produced branded products and hazy beer is just a sign of poorly made beer, he is sure of that. He is absolutely certain that anything at all that comes from a handpull is in the same hand-crafted zone.
This story, which is loosely based on a true event that happened recently, was brought to my mind after the various discussions surrounding a recent definition of Craft Beer. A significant point of contention is the refusal to exclude Blue Moon from the category despite being made and marketed by a major multinational. I'll admit, I'm split on the issue myself.
On the one hand it could very easily be seen as a cynical attempt to try and reverse the falling sales of the nasty chemical beer producers. Having seen micro-brewed beer and Craft Beer erode volume they see the need to make something that might appeal. In itself it is reported to be a highly processed beer transported at high gravity and diluted and treated for consistency with tetra hop and goodness knows what else.
But, equally, it is different. Both flavour and presentation is very different to the standard, pale, highly filtered, clean flavoured, and quite frankly boring lagers that are sold by the same large producer. The banana and clove flavours, the hazy presentation, the theatre of serve created by the addition of a slice of citrus fruit all add to a beer experience that is designed to appeal to a more adventurous drinker. Our man in the story is put off by all this.
Of course I don't want Blue Moon included in the Craft Beer category. None-the-less, many people do not trust small brands, very often this manifests itself at a very simple level of distrust of anything that is from a handpull and much more trust put in things from keg fonts. "I don't like bitters" a simple and common reaction to being offered cask beer. In some respects this can be partly due to the inevitable variability of artisanal producers. This is to some extent where the unfortunate but arguably unavoidable additions large brewers use to gain that consistency could be beneficial. Yes, it goes against the concept of craft, but gaining trust of the wider consumer base is where Craft Beer can fail.
From that point of view a beer like Blue Moon, if we can bring ourselves to welcome it, and I admit the difficulty in doing so, may help consumers who thus far only trust lager to venture a little into the Craft Beer world. Is this a bad thing?
If we can accept the above then we simply have to assess the beer for it's attributes. We must consider a beer drinker who does not have some sort of pre-conceived political motive that sways their judgement simply based on the nature of the business that is responsible for the product.
Going back to the basics of our reference definition, we ask.
Does the beer differ significantly from the styles available to mainstream consumers in the last 10 years? - YES
Is the brewer generally attempting to challenge/create something interesting/resurrect a style? - ABSOLUTELY
If a brand is British/American is the branding modern, is it inclusive? - Oh, VERY MUCH SO. No macho branding, but equally not patronising to any sex or gender.
Has the brand been historically widely available in GB? - NO, and here I assume that a no is a positive answer,
If we simplify this we end up asking if the beer in question is bringing something new and positive to the beer scene. Something that might change perceptions and broaden appreciation of beer.
I believe Blue Moon does do this whilst it is still new and fresh to the broader consumer. Of course, like many things that are new, it will one day be old. It might gain big market saturation. But then, many brands that we now might consider craft will in turn suffer this once they gain widespread acceptance.
This last point is important. The criteria create a sector which by definition must remain dynamic. Reinvention and a need to innovate and react is essential. A point that is not made explicit, but is inextricably implicit.
Even so, I still think you can still say "Blue f*****g Moon is NOT Craft Beer" if it makes you feel happy. Indeed, you'll make me feel happy if you do.
Next up, why I think the term Craft Beer is important.