As an idealist I went into this discussion thinking we would sort this issue out once and for all, alas as I am beginning to learn the idealist is oft disappointed. I say disappointed, however this is a gross exaggeration, it was a real privilege to take this discussion out of the internet and into the real world, a lively and animated discussion amongst esteemed members of the beer community, what more could I have asked for? Our panel comprised of John Clarke (south Manchester CAMRA), Toby Mckenzie (Head Brewer, Redwillow Brewery), Zac Avery (Blogger and owner of Beer Paradise), Peter Alexander (CAMRA type, NWAF organiser) and James Watt (Head Honcho, Brewdog), we attempted to make the panel as balanced as possible with some pro-craft and those with a more traditional CAMRA perspective. There were certainly flaws in the event, chiefly among them a lack of women on the panel, this was highlighted by the very mixed demographic of the crowd in attendance, perhaps an imbalance in the panel, we possibly needed another staunch craft perspective. We live and learn, if you have any comments as to flaws or possible improvements in the format then please let us know.
As the compere for the evening my brief was to keep the discussion going, stimulate discussion and to try and keep my opinions to myself. Each member of the panel was given 3 minutes to state their case, a very brief run down of some of the live tweets from the talk:
“Trying to define it (craft beer) I don’t think we’re going to get anywhere” – John Clarke (CAMRA)
“A really powerful thing is how you define yourself ” – Zak Avery
“we need the definition, to protect it from the multi corporate bastards” James Watt (Brewdog)
“I don’t think we can define craft beer” – Tandleman
“we should not follow the USA in relation to their definition of craft beer” – Tandleman
“You’ve got your own palates! We brew beer you like it, you drink it. You don’t like it, you don’t drink it.” – Toby Mckenzie
“It’s about education. Information for the consumer is key to drink better beer.” – James Watt (BrewDog)
“Not everyone can drink expensive beer” – Zak Avery
“We don’t need a definition. Summer Wine, RedWillow, Thornbridge, Quantum are growing – does it matter?” – James (SWB)
“Be wary of selling things. Don’t push people out. Keep the prices low.” – Tandleman
Well that gives you a flavour of the discussion, the only person who really advocated a tighter definition of craft beer was James Watt, stating size, independence and something else, a broadly similar to the American Brewers Association definition. I was surprised that more people didn’t really support this type of motion, personal I think there is some sense in it.
Do we really need a definition at all? I would argue that maybe we don’t, the US have a constitution set in stone the UK do not, is there a parallel to be drawn here, do us Brits need strict rules to judge these things by and even if we did would we still argue about them anyway? I would say that maybe we need a set of aspirations so that consumers can judge for themselves what is and isn’t craft, some guidance through the world of beer particularly for the uninitiated. I think some of the proposal containing in Tandleman’s blog are very sensible, to develop a broad qualitative definition, maybe using size, independence, ethos and other such wooly terms, at least this gives people a framework by which to make up their own minds.
In terms of ‘craft beer’ being derided as a marketing term, what is the problem with it being a marketing term? Real ale has become a marketing term and plenty of brewers have hung their hat on that, why not have a marketing term which could help small brewers, pubs and customers a like in the same way real ale has done so far.
I think it’s fair to say outwardly we may not have come to a conclusion, however I think it was good to get the discussion out in the open and it has maybe thrown up a few possible discussion points for future events such as:
What future for CAMRA? Beer is an exciting and dynamic industry with a changing demographic, young people, women, previous non-beer drinkers of all ages are getting interested. Can CAMRA keep pace? Is it interested in moving forward? Is it too late? Has the campaign(for real ale) been won already?
Why are PROFIT and MARKETING dirty words in the beer industry? Two words which are vital to the success of any small business or industry as a whole so why do so many get so worked up a bout them?
Words By Jonathan Heyes