Wednesday 21 August 2013

A Commercial Craft Beer Definition.

The definition of Craft Beer in the UK is a hotly debated topic. Many think, including me, that it is difficult to define and it might well be better if we don't try. However, from a commercial point of view there is a need to have a go at broadly identifying it as a market sector.

Robert Plant, I always thought, was a member of the band Led Zeplin. I recently met a Robert Plant, who gave a splendid talk about the state of beer sales in the on-trade. It turned out it was not the man who wrote "Stairway to Heaven" addressing the seminar, but a "senior account manager" at CGA Strategy, who are rather good at collating market data about the drinks industry. I like them, quite a lot.

Despite his lack of rock fame, Rob did give an entertaining talk on beer and how it was doing in the on-trade. There was a simple distillation1 given of the various sectors of beer including regional cask beer, macro-brewed keg and micro-brewed cask. There was also some interesting facts on performance of various types of licensed outlets. Needless to say the wet only pub wasn't looking like a great business in general.

It seems outlets that "premiumise" are likely to do well. Outlets that provide some form of food offering, Cafe bars and branded food pubs it seems. None of this is particularly good news for the traditional pub lover, but they seem to be getting less in numbers anyhow.

But, the big question I had on my mind was "how does this fit with the Craft Beer sector?" - so I asked it. Of course I expected a reply along the lines of "well, we would first have to define craft beer" - which was indeed the reply given. However, this didn't stop a discussion ensuing on the subject and a suggestion that perhaps knowing a bit more might be nice.

I'd like to think it was my awkward question that galvanised Rob into finding an answer for me. However, I suspect I'm not that important to CGA and they probably have quite a few big customers asking them the same question. You see, we're not even a customer of CGA.

It seems they have some answers. They have been through 1000s of beer brands and chosen some to class as Craft Beer. I have no idea if Hardknott has been lumped into it or not.  I am pleased to be able to update this post and confirm that Hardknott does fit their criteria.

The basic facts appeared on twitter a few days ago. I missed some of it, but that's OK because the boys copied it on their blog. Nice chaps. Read about it on the post entitled Craft Beer Quantified

Now, the comments did raise a few eyebrows. "How did you define Craft Beer then?" It's obvious that to collate statistics about a market you have to define it first.

Anyhow, they have sort of defined it, and tell us how on another blog post called Craft Beer Quantified - How did we create the category? Apparently it's annoyed a few folk. Personally I think it's a great attempt. What does the reader think?

In any case it's appropriate that a guy named Robert Plant is looking at how the Craft Beer scene rocks.


1 I'm not sure a simple distillation of any sort of malted beverage is a good idea, really.


Jake said...

It's very appropriate that Robert Plant is looking at how the craft beer scene rocks, given that Logan Plant makes awesome craft beer!

John Clarke said...

All this seeme to do is confirm that in the UK context at least, "craft beer" is really nothing more than a marketing term.

More and more people are turning their backs on this endless debate and just getting down to enjoying the beer - which is what they seem to do in Europe where the beer scene seems thankfully free of this incresaingly tedious "what is craft" debate.

Unknown said...

John and Cookie,

Not withstanding the fact that I have absolutely no belief in this 21st century in the concept of white and blue collar workers. These days it is quite normal for degree educated people, for instance, to put on a pair of overalls and get into the job of using spanners. Equally, just because a person does not have a desk to sit at day after day does not in anyway mean they are not required to be involved in the cognitive functions within a business.

Salary scales and management structures often reflect this in reality in all but the most archaic of organisations.

The old fashioned ideas of white and blue collar workers these days is complete bollocks.

So, it comes down to aspirations, and where a person feels their money is best spent. Is it to do with quality and being happy to pay a little more, for a little less, and gaining much more satisfaction out of that quality. Or is it about being satisfied that maximum volume was bought for tuppence, getting a skinful and still having change for a fish supper.

Anyway, I don't dispute the fact that craft is used as a marketing term. But that does not detract from the fact that there is a difference between craft and not craft.

John Clarke said...

"But that does not detract from the fact that there is a difference between craft and not craft."

Which brings us back to "what is craft" and so the endless merry-go-round continues. I don't think it matters at all whether beer is craft ot not - what matters is whether it's any good. And that depends entirely on the tastes of the person drinking it (unless it's badly made and/or infected slop- and in my experience you can also have "craft crap" and "non-craft" crap).

I think the consensus we are reaching here is the UK is not seeking the answer to "what is craft" but "who cares, let's just enjoy the beer"

Sat In A Pub said...

Seems absolute nonsense to me. Firstly: CGA seem a bit behind the curve. We all know traditional wet led pubs stuggle, but in terms of craft beer-the focus of this topic-they do more than fine. I'm thinking of Port St, the Grove, Craft etc. I'm sure if they had approached CGA beforehand, they would have been advised against their business model.

Secondly: their attempt at defining 'Craft' is all to do with marketing terms. Not surprising and a legitimate form of analysis, but of little use outside of the industry. As John says, people are now just getting on with enjoying craft beer and have their own ideas on what it is. I was interested to hear Logan Plant say that he and several other brewers like the Oliver Garrett definition: "If you know who the brewer is, then it's craft."

And while I take your point re spanners, I hope you're not suggesting that "we're all in it together" and that there are no social classes anymore. That would just be downright silly.

Cooking Lager said...

For sure, class mobility exists and a certain self employed prosperous blue collar working class can earn more than an administrative white collar office bod.

If it comes to buying a chicken I have the choice of a £5 tesco bird or a £15 organic free range one. That's 'cos I belong to a social class that enjoys the choice. Actually most people don't and their choice is just the tesco bird. Ce La Vie.

But it makes sound commercial sense to offer the choice to those that can afford it and market the higher price one in a manner that makes it a desirable choice for those that can.

I love the idea that beer is different to any other commodity bought and sold.

Craft is an image, an emotion, an intangible. It adds value for those that believe in it. It provides a market for people that are unable to make a quality bottle of consistent beer and sell it for 50p in tesco, by convincing people it is worth paying more. Just like the chicken.

I'm not knocking it, it's a good thing.

John Clarke said...

"Craft is an image, an emotion, an intangible"

I think Cookie has finally nailed it.

Unknown said...

I think you all miss the point of what CGA Strategy is about, and what in this case they are trying to do.

Did none of you actually look at what they have done?

Yes, Craft Beer might be considered an intangible. But there is a legitimate desire to define this particular intangible, because it matters to those who are in the business.

Tyson, as for class, I think defining class is just as difficult to do as defining Craft Beer. But for sure, the 20th century idea of white and blue collar workers is just as daft.

For the record, I'm a company director, if I choose to use my proper title. I have just stripped down a pump, replaced the seals and bearings, re-greased where necessary and replaced into the brewhouse so we can get wort into tank. My fingernails and keyboard are quite dirty.

What class am I?

Cooking Lager said...

Prosperous upper working class, Dave. When you take on someone to get his hands dirty and then you sit in your office all day I would guess at you moving to either middle or upper middle class depending on what golf club you join. You can claim to be a member of what class you wish.

I too have a limited company, but the work is white collar therefore I am lower middle class. I like to claim I am working class. I aspire to the prosperity of a wealthier class due to greed whilst claiming to belong to a lower.

Happy to clear that up.

John Clarke said...

Dave - I think it matters to "some" who are in the business. Most brewers I talk to don't think it really matters much at all or even consider it a bit of a joke and I know of one (who makes excellent and well regarded beers) who insists that they are definitely not craft - and was proudly saying so at the Liverpool Craft Beer Expo.

And as for the customers of "the business" I think it is also increasingly irrelevant (apart from a tiny number of beer geeks that is).

Unknown said...


I think we're going to have to agree to disagree. I think it matters to many in the industry more than you might think. Indeed, if someone was proudly stating he was NOT craft, then presumably he has a reason to declare so; it matters to him.

StringersBeer said...

Led Zeppelin

Phil said...

Nice - in a bitter and twisted sort of way - to see the link between 'craft' and 'overpriced' being made so explicitly.

Is it to do with quality and being happy to pay a little more, for a little less

If there's one thing that really gets on my wobbly bits, it's this ignorant, unworldly idea that people who spend a bit more on beer have simply made a free choice to spend a bit more. I'm currently being paid about 32K a year, and on that basis I'm happy (or at least willing) to spend a bit more. A year ago I was being paid half that, and on that basis I very definitely wasn't. The glory of beer - real ale very much included - has always been that it's a quality product that's equally available to the people who are on my current salary (or more) and the 90% of people who are on less. The divisive, reactionary stupidity of 'craft beer' is that it seeks to drive a wedge between the 10% and the 90%.

In short, I'm not keen.

StringersBeer said...

Phil, you seem confused. Or perhaps I am. Sure, people on low incomes don't have so much freedom to choose to pay more that their wealthier (luckier?) neighbours might enjoy.

I can't see how you get from there to the assertion that that those who chose to spend more aren't free to chose to do so.

John Clarke said...

Dave - yes, I suspect we may not agree on this one. As for the brewer at Liverpool I got the impression that they were saying what they were not because it mattered but because they thought the whole craft issue was an irrelevance

PivnĂ­ Filosof said...

As a definition of the brand "Craft Beer", it's a pretty solid one. As a definition of beer that is "Craft", it's as arbitrary and convenient to some business interests as any other I've seen. Nothing wrong with that, you are selling a brand, after all, and it's always good to have it well defined. At the end of the day, it'll all be about to whether the beer is good or not to make people want to purchase it again.

Rob said...

'Craft is an image, an emotion, an intangible'

Yeah, that sounds about right.

Rob said...

Craft is an image, an emotion, an intangible'

Yeah, that sounds about right

Phil said...

I can't see how you get from there to the assertion that that those who chose to spend more aren't free to chose to do so.

I didn't make that assertion. I countered the assertion that what divides those who do spend a bit more on beer from everyone else is that they are "happy to pay a little more" - expensive beer as a lifestyle choice. It's elitism of the worst sort - it presents itself as egalitarian.