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Ask the Brewers #1: Craft Beer?

by: Todd on 08-24-2002
There's been a lot of debate about what a "craft beer" really is, especially amongst hardcore beer and enthusiasts and those working in the beer industry. Is it synonymous with "micro beer" or is it more a brewing philosophy? Is it simply a label of quality or is it a meaningless tagline added to beers to give a public perception of quality? Well rather than trying to define it ourselves, we decided to pose the question to some local brewers. Here are their thoughts on "craft beer" ...

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Thank you for asking us the question, but to me the term "craft" seems to mean "ambachtelijk" in Flemish or "artisanal" in French. So, to me, craft would mean a beer which reflects the sense of beer brewing of the person who makes it. that means that the brewer has his own opinion about beer should be and he does his way. In terms of production, I should say that something artisanal should be made in consideration.

Practically said , for someone like us, 100OHL/year should not make any problem to call craft, but something above 10.OOOHL/year is hardly to make 'by hand'. I am talking about Belgian standards. which are small sizes. A thing which is absolutely craft is the non-filtering and refermentation in bottle. And not pasteurizing the beer!

All the best ...

Kris Herteleer
De Dolle Brewers

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/201/ 

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"Craft beer" is not an expression that is much used here in Britain. However, my definition (in a British context) is:

Craft beer is brewed to be excellent. Any change in the ingredients or brewing system of a craft beer should only be considered if that change is intended to improve the flavour, appearance or consistency of the beer.

Cheers!

Paul Ambler - Head Brewer & Director
The Black Sheep Brewery plc

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/1417/ 

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"Craft" is more a perspective on production than a narrowly defining term for us. Broadly, it is a perspective that encourages us to use the best materials and methods available to us to bring our beer to life. That is no small statement when you offer a line as varied as ours with acclaimed beers in many styles (HopDevil Ale, Golden Monkey Tripel and Prima Pils).

So, to craft our beers we use malt selected from Germany and a touch from the UK. Our hops are whole flowers, selected from US, Czech Republic, Germany and the UK.

We have had up to 5 different yeasts strains active here at any one time and employ 3 different types of fermenters to achieve the character we aim for.

Now in packaging we have invested in capabilities to fill 750 ml corked bottles because we feel certain beers will be enhanced by this treatment.

I think that the above processes well describe how we endeavor to 'craft' flavorful beer.

Cheers,

Bill Covaleski
Victory Brewing Company

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/345/ 

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I thought you'd never ask. Actually, it mostly means local, as in what is our Cambridge, Framingham or Providence Head Brewer up to, and is the beer something people like? Each brewer knows his/her audience best, keeping the masses happy as well as making exciting beers for the punters who want a
little more.

I personally don't really like the name "craft", because it seems to imply that we use big wooden tubs to make the beer. We like stainless steel and refrigeration so that we can make the beer consistently.

Tim Morse, Director of Brewing Operations
John Harvard's Brew House

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/1548/ 

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"Craft Beer" is the art and science of making interesting and delicious beers. It means being creative with new ingredients and also being able to re-create time tested styles, but not strictly those styles. I believe this is how new styles have been invented throughout history, i.e. Pilsner, Steam Beer, Rauch Beer, and Lambics etc. etc.

My beers definitely reflect this idea. I have made traditional styles like my Pro-Creator Doppelbock using the triple decoction technique, an IPA with fresh leaf hops in the hop back, and a delicious Oktoberfest Lager, along with interesting non-traditional beers like Mocha Java Stout, Coconut Porter, and Honey Almond Ale.

This is a great time in the world of beer. We are able to try beers from around the world because of the shrinking "global community", and those traditional styles reinvented by local brewers, and also totally new and exciting beers created by adventurous brewers.

I hope this trend continues, because the art of "Craft Beer" is very interesting indeed!!

Joe Zadrozny
Z Street Brewing Co., Inc.

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/228/ 

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Good question. We all know "micro" became "craft" when most brewers started brewing above the 15,000 bbl limit to be designated a "micro". Micro was probably a bad term to begin with, as size does not describe what you brew. During a MBAA meeting at AB in Merrimac years ago, I sampled a hefeweizen in the cellar. It was a test batch, it was incredible (it never saw the light of day). I realized then, size is irrelevant, it's a "craft" at any size when you can make something that good.

My view now is "craft" beer is any beer differentiated by, well, the beer, and not advertising. Mass marketed American lager tends to be fairly homogenous, therefore, advertising plays a big part of the differentiation. Craft beer has unique attributes in the beer itself, what a fucking a concept.

We try to make each Tremont ale with a point of differentiation, as to give the consumer a reason to buy our beer. This does not mean we use gimmicks or make beers heavy handed (don't get me started there). Tremont Ale is dry, something the Brits do well, and we felt was lacking in the US. Tremont Winter Ale uses raw cane sugar, a traditional ingredient for British strong ales, which gives the beer a toffee character usually not found in US winter ales.

All the best,

Chris Lohring
Tremont Brewing Company

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/154/ 

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Well it's hard to define a word that has become such an industry cliché. What does the term "craft beer" mean? I argue that it means nothing. Does it simply refer to beer made on a small scale? How does that differentiate it from other beers? Does it refer to beer that's not industrially produced? That's hardly possible for a commercial brewer.

Does it refer to ingredients, dedication, flavor profiles? I have no clue. Almost every beer made in the United States is intended to be a copy of one beer or another. Is that "craft beer"?

But the term has become part of our identity as small American brewers and I have no problem with it. I could see it having some sort of a meaning to mega-brewers who might use it to describe our less-industrial, cute-little breweries.

In my job I tend to every aspect of production. In that way I'm practicing the entire "craft" of beer-making. I formulate beers, I spend an hour sweating in the mash-tun during brews, I give tours and I'm the guy running the bottling line. I'm sure some of the mega-brewers would love to be in the position of the beer being so personal.

I enjoy the greatest career in the world at a scale that I believe should be the envy of anyone who chooses to practice the craft. Call it whatever you like but as long as the beer's good, you love what you do and people enjoy the product, then its heaven.

Save your soul,

Dann Paquette, Head Brewer
Concord/Rapscallion Brewers

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/59/ 

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Craft beers have the qualities of a beautiful relationship. First, the concept of recipe formulation, this in turn is reflected in color, flavors, texture, aromas, and most importantly the sum of all parts, the drinkability.

Secondly, in order to make this symphony of delicate parts come to play you must give a little control to the magic of your yeast. This living and ever changing element of the process is what humbles me in the brewing process.

Finally, the customer is the ultimate decision maker when it comes to the success of my toils. I may handcraft a delicious beer that only brewers and myself will find technically and tastefully executed but that won't pay the bills or keep the public happy.

I do really love brewing beer because it is a form of self expression which allows my creativity to sampled by a wide range of people, and I love to drink beer!

Thanks for asking,

David Wollner, Head Brewer
Willimantic Brewing Co. / Main Street Cafe

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/477/ 

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Craft beers mean that you make interesting styles of beer with traditional ingredients and brewing processes and you don't use the ingredients that some of the big brewers use, like adding water to lighten the beer up or brewing with adjuncts. There is more care and attention during the brewing process and there is a higher level of passion and commitment to beer that goes into everything you do.

Jim Koch, Founder
Boston Beer Company (Sam Adams)

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/35/ 

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My first response to the term "Craft Beer" is:

Why does the term only apply to beer in the gastronomical world? I guess my argument stems from my occasional viewing of the familiar Saturday line-up of "craft" cooking shows that I enjoy and when it really comes down to it, isn't brewing really a form of cooking?

I could talk hours and many beers later of what my role in this industry is but one term that never ceases to puzzle me is the term craft beer... would Martha Stewart raise a waspish brow if her occupation was called "Craft Cooking"? The only thing I think of when it comes to craft is - Arts and Crafts. Yeah brewing is an art and we do craft our ideas into recipes but I'd rather refer to the American renaissance in brewing in the last couple of years as the term "Artisanal", that's if you don't mind me quoting fellow artisan, Dan Paquette, from Concord Brewers. Hey! He made me realize something when his not "Belgian" but "Artisanal" beers were finally released...we may duplicate a craft that's existed for hundreds of years in Europe but the true term to be recognized is that every beer made in America doesn't really represent our foreign compadres, what it really represents is what we learned from them and carried on in our own translation or representation of what new styles of the term "craft beer" really is.

I am stubborn to duplicate something that's already been crafted for years and years. We here at Watch City, may have a reputation of making eclectic styles of beers but one thing we try to do besides the desire to be coltish is to really progress to the next level of brewing and incur our own traditions. Sure I enjoy the very occasional pale ale but Brewers in America are now proud to represent their own "Art" or "Artisanal" styles, while still respecting where our roots came from. It's time we promoted this fact especially around the time of "American Beer Month".

Aaron Mateychuk - Head Brewer
Watch City Brewing Company

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/211/ 

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To me, "craft beer" means beer that is produced on a relatively small scale (relative to the mega barrel producers; clearly Sierra Nevada is a craft brewery, even if no longer a micro)with pride in the quality of the product being the over riding concern. Craft beer must excite the senses, rather than simply avoid offending them. Trying to define craft beer is analogous to defining gourmet food relative to other food; where exactly do you draw the line? I think one common link between the two is the educational aspect; craft beer inherently teaches consumers a little more about the range of flavor combinations possible in beer, and encourages them to be more discriminating about what they enjoy. This is in direct opposition to the mass marketing approach of the huge producers, who bluntly advertise the lack of any flavor as an advantage, and encourage consumption at icy cold temperatures ( to minimize aroma and make the tongue inoperative, of course).

Our beers stress balance, quality, and consistency for all our styles. It is also important to me that the different beers have distinct flavor profiles. Our flagship products, Lager and Pale Ale, are each made in the traditional fashion of each respective style. That means using different yeasts, malts, hops, fermentation profiles and even brewhouse procedures for each of them to preserve their respective German and English heritage. They also have greatly different OGs and bitterness levels (13 vs. 14.5 Plato, and 24 vs. 56 IBU) to appeal to different palates. The Golden Ale is very light bodied and drinkable but still with a distinct hop flavor, and our seasonal brews, primarily available in sampler packs, provide a nice change of pace. Our dedication to producing traditional styles of utmost quality is our contribution to raising the expectations of beer drinkers in our area.

Dan Kahn
Buzzards Bay Brewing Co.

 http://beeradvocate.com/beer/review/52/ 
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