The definition of craft beer in the UK raised its head on Twitter again at the end of last week, it has also appeared on a few of the blogs I read since then too (here, here, here and here). I was going to blog about it on Friday before it all blew up, but ran out of time and any motivation to make time after work disappeared once I’d cracked open a beer. After much toing and froing, it seems to me at least, that the general consensus ended up with it, yet again, meaning something along the lines of: beers made by brewers I like. Seems we’ve not progressed at all since I last wrote about this stuff.
I do think we need to stop chasing our tails on this one and just let it lie. The phrase craft beer means different things to different people, which is completely unworkable and the main reason why using it is a load of cobblers. Even though we all think we know what it means, as there is no hard and fast definition, like there in the US, it is therefore in our reality, meaningless. I still think we should be using phrases like new wave and progressive to describe brewers, although I quite like Adrian Tierney-Jones’ comment on Tandleman’s post about using the term artisanal (even though the usage of that word can end up being a bit wanky).
The main reason I was going to post though, was about a comparison between craft beer and heavy metal. The idea had been running around inside my head for a while, but it took Simon Johnson’s New Wave Of British Keggy Metal blog to give me the necessary kick to write it down. I’m not going to give a definition as that’s not what this is about, it’s more an observation. Essentially it boils down to this, I think that what is happening with beer in the UK, is just like what happened with rock and the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal.
Just as bands like Iron Maiden, Saxon, Diamond Head, Judas Priest et al replaced Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and the like, on the record players, tape decks and walkmen of the youth of the day. So brewers like Thornbridge, Dark Star, Magic Rock, Summer Wine, Marble and so forth are replacing the likes of Greene King, Wadworth, Shepherd Neame, etc, etc, etc in the glasses of the next generation of drinkers. Now I don’t know if it’s a similar thing as happened with Porter, it falling out of favour as it was seen as an old mans drink, but the whole thing does have that kind of aura about it.
Nothing happens in isolation though, the NWOBHM was built on the foundation of those that went before; we wouldn’t have the likes of Iron Maiden without Black Sabbath and their peers. They listened to those bands and used them, amongst others, as inspiration to forge their own paths and sounds. The vast majority of todays new wave and progressive brewers will have grown up drinking beer from this country’s old school regional and family brewers, but are taking their inspiration, not only from them, but from what’s happening in the rest of world, especially the US.
I suppose that if you’re main inspiration is the US Craft Beer movement, then you’re going to want to identify with that by trying to label yourself accordingly. However, the beery environment in the UK is not the same as that in the US and never has been, hence why I don’t think the phrase is transferable. At the end of the day, it’s all wet, brown* and alcoholic and I think there are plenty of other things we should be worrying about, rather than getting our knickers in a twist over the definition of two words. To be perfectly honest, I think the Magic Rock tagline sums up craft beer in the UK best; Same But Different.
* Other colours are available…