Monday, 23 September 2013

A Philosophical View of Craft Beer

I was sent an email containing a scanned copy of an interesting article the other day. The friend who sent it knows my interest in the question of Craft Beer, what it is, and whether it is relevant or not. I actually think my friend is fairly ambivalent about the subject, generally declaring he just likes beer. None-the-less, the article obviously fired a level of recognition of something that he did like.

The article in question appeared in Brewing and Distilling International - I'm not a member of the IBD so I don't get a copy. The article is called "Craft Beer - A Philosopher's Perspective". I liked it a lot. As I can't link to the article, as it seems to only be available in print, I shall explain what it talks about.

It talks about direction of fit. It talks about whether a beer is produced to appeal to a large potential customer base, or if the beer is made to appeal to the brewer, or perhaps a brewer and his mates, and then an attempt to try and find enough people, or convert enough people into liking it.

This is exactly, to me, what most true craft brewers are doing. Making beer they believe in and then attempting to convince people to like their approach to beer. These brewers truly believe they make something that people should like, but perhaps it doesn't conform to the staid conformist beers on general sale.
"If you want to make a successful, high-
selling beer, brewing a beer tailored to suit
people’s tastes, the beer-to-public direction-of-
fit is the rational approach"
And actually, more recently, as we've grown from where we were three years ago, we've made some beers deliberately to have broader appeal. There are many breweries who only ever do that. Moreover, and I think this is very important, it's got nothing to do with dispense format.

The other day I found myself in a London pub, with a series of about 6 handpulls. I tried most of the beers, and frankly, they were all the same in everything but name. All quite refreshing, balanced and very competently brewed, but to my palate quite bland and watery and with very little hop character. Obviously all brewed to fit the tastes of the wider1 cask beer drinker.

I still believe we stand by, and will continue to stand by the basic principle outlined in the article.
"Craft brewers are crazy about beer in the
sense that their desire to brew good beer has a
public-to-beer direction of fit. They try to
make a product which fulfils their conception
of the perfect beer and try to bring the public
over to it. As such, they’re personally invested
in the product. This is why craft beer has the
kind integrity and authenticity characteristic of
old-fashioned craft."
 The article was written by Andrew Jorgensen and published June 2013.

-------------------

1 "Wider cask beer drinker" - what am I talking about? The width of the drinker has got nothing to do with it I expect.

12 comments:

Benjamin Nunn said...

This argument is assuredly valid, but I feel that it only holds true towards the top of the cascade.

The first few brewers to get in on, for want of a better expression, 'the craft beer revolution' were clearly guided by these sincere values and motivation. But as soon as it began to gather momentum they were undeniably joined by those whose motivation was a cynical cash-in rather than a heartfelt philosophy. (Or in some cases a more benign 'I can do that too' follower mentality).

The point at which the philosophical bubble bursts is the moment the bandwagon-jumpers start to outnumber the trailblazers and the perceived image of the product becomes more important than the product itself.

Thus the meaning inherent in the definition is progressively diluted, eventually becomes meaningless, and the cycle goes full circle when the trailblazers then go and come up with something new - or at least a new identifier or way of setting themselves apart.

It's the cyclic nature of all things and 'craft beer' can't escape that any more than 'real ale' or 'organic' or any other definition born out of conscientiousness and striving for quality. I think the real argument may simply be: what point in the cycle have we reached with craft beer?

Dave Bailey said...

Benjamin,

Totally get your point. This is indeed the real question and one that we should be concerned about.

However, I don't think that the philosophy cannot be extended to the band-waggon jumpers. If those joining in are truly doing so out of a desire to make really great beer that they believe in then all well and good.

I agree that there are some that are simply wanting a slice of what they see as financial rewards. To some extent this is always going to be difficult to sort out, but I believe the mass of beer opinion will out the real scammers.

As for bubbles. I think it is perhaps important to think of Craft Beer more like foam than a single bubble. Individual bubbles will burst, small parts of the foam will collapse, but so long as new ideas come along to create new and interesting bubbles then there is no reason why the foam cannot continue to grow.

To that extent I think that the American Craft Beer scene is a case in point. There the bubble has been growing for several decades.

Cooking Lager said...

So if I buy regular staid boring trousers I get a pair that fit me, but craft trousers only fit the person that is selling them to me?

Phil said...

I think the "public-to-beer direction of fit" is a bit of a myth. Brewing's a commercial industry (I don't need to tell you that, Dave!) - there have been brewers who simply brew what they think is good, regardless of fashion, but they're few and far between. Most people developing a product for sale have a rough idea of who's likely to buy it and where.

There is a substantial market sector of people who want to drink beer made by brewers who don't try and follow public taste. So there's a living to be made by brewers who try to follow their tastes - particularly if they combine beer-geek styles (DIPAs, imperial stouts, weird mash-ups) with appeals to beer-geek vanity (it's independent! it's radical! it's limited!).

'Craft beer' is just as "beer-to-public" in its approach as boring brown bitter - it's just a different public.

Dave Bailey said...

Cookie,

I see what you are saying. But it's perhaps not about size, after all, it's possible to serve beer in whatever size glass you like.

But using the reference to clothing, it could be said that craft beer in analogous to designer fashion clothing perhaps? Or even the more alternative niches in the clothing market where often the market is driven by the manufacturer/designer.

Phil,,

Likewise, I totally get your point. Indeed, you do not need to explain to me that all brewing is a commercial industry.

However, I do think that Craft Brewers tend to try to make their market, rather than just trying to find gaps in what is already an existing market. Or even, just defending the market share they have.

Your point about us having an idea about who, and where we want to sell to is valid though.

StringersBeer said...

"we've made some beers deliberately to have broader appeal" So are you saying that you're less craft now than you were?

Dave Bailey said...

Mr Stringers, indeed there is a danger that, if you look at the cross section of the beer we make there is a danger that I would consider it less craft.

This is why we are just about to bottle Vitesse Noir and unleash it on the world.

And then there will be Rhetoric III - that'll show yer!

StringersBeer said...

Alright Dave, I heard you the first time.

Bailey said...

'I do think that Craft Brewers tend to try to make their market.'

Yes.

unclepuble said...

I'm sorry but all this it tastes different so its craft is utter bollocks!

Craft should pertain to the production method & people making the stuff NOT the style, flavor profile or dispense method!

Just because a beer doesnt contain enough hops, Coffee extract or "Insert whatever ingredient you like" for someones personal taste does not mean it isn't a Craft Beer.

All you are doing by barging on trying to twist the meaning of the word "CRAFT" is watering down the meaning of "CRAFT BEER" more than it already is.

I don't actually see what your end game is, by trying to determine the true meaning of the "Craft Beer", its a waste of time in my opinion, and I think you would have a better chance of proving the existence of GOD.

If its to boost the price of your own product or improve its appeal by trying to make it more avaunt gard then good luck, with your quest.

I would have thought a better business plan would be to make the best quality & most consistent beer that you are able to do. That people like to drink on a daily basis that sells itself on its own merit without whistles and bells.

If your able to do this by feel "Rule of Thumb" minimal automation I.E. small scale, natural products without having to tweak with advanced additives etc then by all means call it Craft

Otherwise The argument your putting forward is the same as the people selling Snake Oil in the wild west!

Dave Bailey said...

unclepuble,

If you look back through comments on previous posts of mine you will see many people try to say that craft pertains to productions methods, not taste, or anything else. The fact is that the vast majority of drinkers do not give a damn about production methods. Not at all. They care about taste.

And, further down your comment you contradict yourself by declaring it is making good beer that makes the difference.

This is what we do, but if everyone said "we make good beer" without some form of further description then it also means nothing.

You might not like it, but the term Craft Beer is real. There is nothing wrong with us exploring what it should and shouldn't mean.

However, it has very little to do with production methods in the mind of the Craft Beer drinker, even if that isn't what you'd like the truth to be.

unclepuble said...

I'm sorry but I just don't have the time to read every post I have too much other stuff to be getting on with.

The point I'm trying to get at is I'm not wanting anything personally I was mearly pointing out that "Craft" has already been defined quite clearly by the people that make dictionary's etc By using the Word Craft and adding the word Beer, why should the meaning of the two words change to something romantic?

That's it!