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home Home > Subscribe to Ratebeer.com Weekly RateBeer Archives > Craft Beer Introduction

What Is Craft Beer?

Cutting through confusion, misunderstanding we’ve produced this doc.
Craft Beer Introduction May 12, 2014      
Written by joet


Craft Brewing is a category in beer making. There is no qualitative value attached to “craft” or “craft” versus “traditional”, or even what we call “industrial” brewing. There are good and bad quality craft beers. Craft Brewing is a genre. It is not a quality certification.

Where did it come from?
English beer writer Michael Jackson is believed to have coined “Craft Brewing” when he used it in the 1970s in reference to artisanal scale brewing operations in Belgium, the United States and other brewing countries.

Craft Brewing turned into a global cultural movement with its own additional distinguishing features after drawing considerable inspiration from national quality-focused beer renaissances in Belgium and England, primarily. Fritz Maytag and Jack McAuliffe were American progenitors who used a multicultural (Scottish, English, California), small-scale approach in Northern California, with a significant hop signature, that was popular and inspired today’s craft brewers around the world to rapidly expand and evolve beer style offerings.

What criteria defines Craft Brewing?
First, we don’t see all beers as either craft or not craft, but instead on a scale from not craft, to somewhat craft and on to very craft. These criteria don’t offer a means for certifying whether something is or is not craft, just as there are no explicit criteria that explain when music is certainly Folk music, or when art is certainly Surrealist. Adherence to these criteria however, offers some indication of the degree to which the label of “Craft Brewer” might be appropriately applied.

* The business is structured around a brewer/owner and is independent

* Distinguishes itself from national Traditional Brewing by brewing beer styles inspired by a global culture and not just local tradition. This means craft brewers might brew Danish styles or variants thereof in San Francisco or German styles in London, or Belgian beer in Japan with Japanese fruit additions.

* The brewer is a visible company figure who is known by many consumers. The brewer has a relationship with consumers and this translates into better serving consumer tastes

* Primarily focuses on local consumers, local sales and tastes. A craft brewer will have local spirit

* Engages in human-scale rather than corporate-scale business practices

* A lack of reliance on a fixed line of products

* Creative brewing or lack of adherence to traditional brewing styles

* Distinguishes itself from Industrial Brewing through the use of quality ingredients

If it’s not Craft Brewing, what is it?
Craft Brewing is not a term certifying quality. It’s a kind of genre category. There are many other terms we use to refer to other categories, many of which overlap with Craft to some degree. Here are a few:

Industrial Brewing
Usually pale lagers of Germanic provenance. Despite being brewed in most every brewing country around the world, these are almost all Germanic lagers and mostly pale in color.
Exceptions are Anglo Industrial ales brewed at similar scales. These can be stouts in Ireland or Africa
Examples are Anheuser-Busch/InBev, MillerCoors SAB, Carlsberg, Heineken

Belgian Traditional
Brewers, working in Belgium or of Belgian ancestry, who brew a line of ales which are only of Belgian beer styles, e.g. Abbey, Lambic, Wit

A particular defining feature of Belgian Traditional brewing is the use of Belgian ale yeasts, warm fermentation temperatures and bacteria

Most often describes a national or regional scale of production
FACT: Westvleteren 12 is a top rated beer at RateBeer and is not a Craft Beer. It is a Belgian Traditional
Examples: Cantillon, Westvleteren, 3 Fonteinen, Rochefort

American Regional
Most often, well established American brewers not consumed by the rise of globalized Industrial Brewing in the mid 20th Century
Defined by pale and tan lagers of Germanic ancestry, often with corn or rice adjuncts
Examples: Spoetzl (Shiner), Yeungling, August Schell, Straub

Other useful brewing categories are English Traditional, German Traditional, Italian Traditional, Brazilian Regional.

Is Contract Brewing also Craft Brewing?
It certainly can be but isn’t necessarily so. Please review the criteria above.


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start quote Craft Brewing is a genre. It is not a quality certification. end quote