How do you define "craft beer"?

Discussion in 'Beer Talk' started by Todd, Apr 1, 2021.

  1. Todd

    Todd Founder (6,643) Aug 23, 1996 California
    Staff Moderator Fest Crew Society Trader

    Reactions to the Brewers Association Releases the Top 50 American Brewing Companies by Sales Volume for 2020 list on Facebook and Instagram (don't read the comments), plus a recent article by Evan Rail, reminded me that regardless of how organizations like the Brewers Association try to define terms like "craft brewer" and "independent beer" for the U.S., everyone will have their own definition of "craft beer" and it's going to be very different around the world.

    So, how do you define "craft beer"?
  2. JackHorzempa

    JackHorzempa Poo-Bah (5,478) Dec 15, 2005 Pennsylvania

    "So, how do you define "craft beer"?"

    How is this for irony? An article I wrote entitled "What is Craft Beer?" was recently published.

    I have zero doubt this thread will include spirited debate.


    WCKDVBZ Meyvn (1,438) May 9, 2014 South Carolina

    In my opinion, craft beer is something that is well-crafted. Beer that tastes good and that's made with good quality ingredients. Being independent or not is another "thing". Several breweries on that list are "independent", but there's nothing "craft" about them. And some that are not independent, produce very well-crafted beers.
    #3 WCKDVBZ, Apr 1, 2021
    Last edited: Apr 1, 2021
  4. trparky

    trparky Initiate (46) Feb 21, 2017 Ohio

    My definition of "craft beer" is rather simple... anything that's not made on the scale of Budweiser (bleh!). Yeah, I know... it's rather broad definition.
    BrewsOverHoes and Providence like this.
  5. teromous

    teromous Poo-Bah (3,356) Mar 21, 2010 Virginia
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    I know there will always be an industry term for craft beer but I've always considered it more of an ethos that breweries follow because they love their craft, rather than counting barrels.
  6. jts211

    jts211 Disciple (358) Aug 5, 2018 Pennsylvania
    Society Trader

    Like you said @Todd the term “craft beer” is ambiguous. Maybe some folks associate this term with expensive beer and/or something outside what you find at chain restaurants.
  7. DanielAron

    DanielAron Disciple (353) May 15, 2005 Illinois
    Society Trader

    Love the reference to the Kool-Aid beer discussion on this forum. Great article.
    JackHorzempa likes this.
  8. Troy-Hawaii

    Troy-Hawaii Meyvn (1,485) Jun 15, 2015 Hawaii

    I think of craft beer as the lower volume beer where the owner is more concerned about producing a quality product rather than the cheapest beer that they can get people to buy. That is why the macrobrewers spend more of their money on advertising than they do on the ingredients that go into their beer. They produce an image that makes you think if you drink their product you can be part of the popular crowd and it works as you can see how many people drink Budweiser, Coors, and Miller at large gatherings.

    On the other side I think a lot of the smaller producers call their beer craft just so that they can charge more, but when you drink it you find that they can be worse than the macrobrews.

    So in the end if I think the producer crafted a good beer then I call it a craft beer.
  9. zid

    zid Poo-Bah (1,743) Feb 15, 2010 New York
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    That would make Bud Ice a "craft beer." :slight_smile:
  10. CabinsInTheWoods

    CabinsInTheWoods Initiate (0) May 12, 2020

    For me, it's any beer that meets the general ethos of the NYS Farm Brewing act:

    • No less than 90% of the hops and 90% of all other ingredients must be grown in state
    • A limit of 75K finished barrels per year.
    For the purposes of this conversation, I'm willing to exclude ingredients that you cannot get in the US from the 90% rule (like coffee) and consider it more on mileage than purely geographic terms (A St. Louis brewery gets apples from an Illinois farm 10 miles away? I'm not going to nitpick that it's "not from MO") but I think at that size and ethos people are still involved in the overall manufacturing and it's not done rotely by machines and science alone.
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  11. billandsuz

    billandsuz Zealot (500) Sep 1, 2004 New York

    Anything not produced by ABI, Molson Coors or Heineken?
    Anything not made within 2 miles of my front door.

    You choose.

    bubseymour likes this.
  12. JAB80104

    JAB80104 Initiate (51) Mar 26, 2016 Colorado

    My definition: Beers brewed with a goal to highlight or advance the brewing craftsmanship, rather than to gain novelty profits or "likes". Note that this definition would allow brewers like InBev, as well as my fav (Weldwerks) to brew craft beers
  13. GoDogGo

    GoDogGo Initiate (46) Apr 21, 2014 Washington

    How about this: any beer that is made on a 20-barrel system or smaller can be considered a craft beer. Yes, it's arbitrary, but the point is a beer stops being "craft" when the size of the batch is designed to be a mass-marketed item. This will leave many breweries with a mix of craft/non-craft beers, like Deschutes that has a 150 barrel system for making their mainline beers such as Black Butte Porter or Fresh Squeezed IPA. However, they still make some beer on a smaller system, so they can make craft beer that has limited targeted consumers. Beer made in systems above 20 barrels really aren't going to be anything but well-established widely-distributed beer no longer considered novel. Where is the craft in that?
  14. icohen82

    icohen82 Initiate (67) Feb 1, 2010 New York

    A craft to me implies a hobby, something only done for the love of doing it. That's what I want to taste in a "craft" beer. Something so original, so personal that the taste of the beer is uncompromising and delicious. You can travel the world and not taste anything like it.
  15. marquis

    marquis Champion (812) Nov 20, 2005 England

    I have long argued the meaningless of the term. I recall the start of the micro revolution which was the result of the introduction of keg beer in our pubs.
    I had a favourite beer in the 1960s, the brewery was taken over and eventually closed. A brewer from there set up his own small brewery and continued to produce its beers.
    Same beer, different sized brewery Is one craft and not the other?
    The quality control of Budweiser is legendary, the result is far from my preference, but what makes it less craft if as well crafted? In fact many craft brewers learnt their trade from working there.
    There is a thing called the Turing test, if I place two beers in front of you, can you distinguish the one from the craft brewery?
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  16. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (2,771) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
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    Nice job Jack.
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  17. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (2,771) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
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    So craft beers are loosely being defined as beer being produced that uses no adjuncts? Malt,yeast, water, hops only?

    What about styles outside if lagers and ales? Fruited Gose, some use sea salt, and spices. Framboise uses fruit, sours too. Farmhouse Ales use wild yeasts and what ever else is floating in the air. Stouts using chocolate, caramel, pecans, and it’s many adjuncts.

    Seems the term craft is pointed strictly as differentiating between larger breweries like AB or MC producing light lagers and smaller Breweries doing the same that only use the four components. In this area there’s PA and its many forms as well.

    Seems a slippery slope at best based on style and by who. The best beers fall under the term all here would call craft, some of the worst beers I’ve ever had would also be termed craft, and I’ve poured many down the drain. The bigger brewers don’t do BA stouts or Gose or Sours or Farmhouse style beers, so it’s easy there. But Michelob has experimented with some different styles. So it would appear to me the term craft is being pointed at a certain style of beer. Also quality certainly cannot be a defining term for craft beer although it’s assumed to a degree.
  18. jonphisher

    jonphisher Meyvn (1,276) Aug 9, 2015 New Jersey
    Society Trader

    I think craft for me used to be like the counterculture of the beer world, not a great definition but that’s how I used to look at it.

    Now it’s harder IMO. I say this because the same craft breweries have come full circle. Chasing profit, expanding exponentially (:wink:), and brewing beers at high prices that mostly taste the same, or not like beer at all, sound familiar?

    I said something similar in another thread but it’s almost like some places have become the exact thing they were trying to be different from years ago.
  19. rozzom

    rozzom Meyvn (1,055) Jan 22, 2011 New York

    For me it means something more specific than just a catch all for good beer from (usually) independent breweries. If someone is coming round to my place and says they’re bringing some “craft beer” then what I would expect would be a style/sub-style of beer that’s risen to popularity over the last couple of decades from predominantly American or American craft-influenced breweries.


    hill farmstead
    other half

    Excellent beer that’s not craft

    tim taylor
    MikeFromMaryland likes this.
  20. jjamadorphd

    jjamadorphd Poo-Bah (1,977) Jul 21, 2012 Florida
    Society Trader

    For me the term "craft beer" carries a broad connotation. Anyone who home brews, and takes it seriously, is making "craft beer". Taking the time to pick the best ingredients, dabbling with experimentation of different spices, different mash temps, and so on all. IF you do this it should (hopefully) produce a beer that as tasty, if not more so, than anything massed produced or even most things you might find at your local brewery.

    Along those lines, most of the local brewers in my area try to do just that - pick the best ingredients, dabble with experimentation, and yada yada. Many of their beers are what I would call craft.

    So to me "craft beer" is beer any beer any style that is mindfully and carefully produced with the hopes of an enjoyable 'drink'. (In the end though, as all the reviews on this site indicate, it falls to the taste of the beholder...)
    puboflyons and jonphisher like this.
  21. rozzom

    rozzom Meyvn (1,055) Jan 22, 2011 New York

    @herrburgess i was trying to like your comment. Put it back! It was spot on haha
    herrburgess likes this.
  22. herrburgess

    herrburgess Meyvn (1,153) Nov 4, 2009 South Carolina

    smartass answer: a guaranteed increase in price without a guaranteed increase in quality.

    serious answer: I don't know.
  23. Will_Shank

    Will_Shank Initiate (38) Aug 5, 2014

    For me, Craft Beer means beer made with the minimum number of ingredients and without adjuncts such as rice and potatoes. I am amazed that here in Canada, brewers are permitted to use more than 100 ingredients and they don't have to tell us what they are.

    Also, craft beer is brewed in a brewery. Don't laugh. Here in Toronto there is a huge beer manufacturing place out near the airport. I worked there for years, for a contractor. People always referred to the building where their product is made and bottled as "the plant", not the brewery or brewhouse.
  24. Thankin_Hank

    Thankin_Hank Poo-Bah (1,966) Nov 18, 2013 Texas

    Craft is not your Daddy's beer and it's not for everybody. They'll be just fine if they never drink anything besides their Lite beer from Miller for the rest of their lives. I drank Coors Light long enough to know. But Tequila and whiskey shots were also the norm. Not so much anymore. Now it's all about IPAs and I suspect that will continue for the foreseeable future. Craft beer turned me into a HOPHEAD. I'd just like to say, THANK YOU!!! My local brewer has some, IMO, fantastic IPAs. As always, so many beers and so little time. Most of us know, one must travel to find the best of the best beers, even in this country. Cheers!
  25. MKozaka

    MKozaka Disciple (318) Apr 25, 2006 Connecticut

    From US perspective, feels like the term is unnecessary these days. Vital decades/years ago (along with microbrewery) to distinguish from AAL and the conglomerates. Now, there are how many breweries in the US, 8k?

    I’m conflicted on my personal definition. Can’t define based on size anymore.
    And many “craft” breweries produce an AAL.

    Seems like anyone announcing they are into “craft” beer is just focused on the bold trends.
  26. Timmybeer

    Timmybeer Initiate (32) Apr 27, 2016 Georgia

    One should not confuse craft beer with quality and big beer as having a lack of quality. Having done both, I can assure you and have zero doubt that big beer has a significantly stronger commitment to and history of delivering quality. By quality I mean a consistent, repeatable beer that meets the expectation of its consumer. You can argue taste, flavor, all the other attributes; but consistent production of beer is much better with the big boys. It is the reason craft beers don't always taste the same batch after batch. 'Doesn't mean they aren't good beers, just not as consistent.
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  27. GimmeAGuinness

    GimmeAGuinness Defender (603) Sep 1, 2005 Massachusetts
    Fest Crew Society

    If a restaurant advertises a "great selection of craft beer," or something like that, I take it to mean that someone has at least tried to put beer other than the gigantic breweries' corn-brewed fare on their menu. My definition of the term, however, changes as the years go on. I tend to think of "craft" breweries as the smaller guys who are pushing boundaries and/or trying to find their way in their world.
  28. filstan

    filstan Initiate (110) Mar 4, 2012 Illinois

    I believe the time has come and gone for the term craft beer. I felt that "craft beer" starting back in the mid 1980's onward for example was defined by emerging small breweries pushing beer styles into new areas, using different hops, and brewing beer that was a departure from large pale lager breweries that were producing ubiquitous, bland, and unexciting brews. "Craft" brewers were artists within the art of brewing. To me it was about brewing really good quality beer that had character.

    Bringing this to the present, we have a really vibrant brewing scene. We have many breweries that the public at large would designate as craft beer breweries. The question is quality. There are many breweries that produce very mediocre beer, although that is subjective and if some people enjoy a specific beer, that local brewer is doing his/her job in giving people what they want. What I am trying to say is that a small "craft" brewery doesn't necessarily brew great beer. Craft beer used to imply better quality in my opinion. Just because a brew is aggressively hopped and has a high ABV doesn't mean it's well made. We need to remember that really large breweries also make great beer too. Is that not craft beer as well? Are those brewers not extremely talented artists in their own right?

    I really don't use the term craft beer anymore. Instead I just use the term local beer. With so many breweries in the USA this gives beer drinkers choices, and that in my opinion is progress above and beyond what craft beer stood for when the term referred to a small local brewery that made interesting and hopefully delicious beer.

    Good beer always wins!
  29. rgordon

    rgordon Meyvn (1,254) Apr 26, 2012 North Carolina

    Beer handmade that hopefully is a labor of love.
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  30. gueuzegeek

    gueuzegeek Disciple (308) Aug 11, 2003 New Jersey

    The word “Craft” has become so overused across everything under the sun these days. These days, you can be a really BAD nano-community brewery and have horrible beer, and STILL call it craft! Therefore, I’d love to say I judge purely based on taste, however, once I know a great craft brewery “sold out”, I am a bit inclined to be less likely to purchase their bottles/cans, but if their beer is GREAT still, I may still grab it on tap! It is not as simple as a word to me.
  31. Coolmenati

    Coolmenati Initiate (30) Oct 22, 2016 New Jersey

    Some brewing operations are large and rich enough to be able to influence, if not control, the market for many of their ingredients. Makes it a lot easier to manage the consistency of their product.

    A craft brewer can make great beer from ingredients that are available and affordable (and ideally local) to them. As a consequence, their product may not be Budweiser-consistent. But if it’s consistently great, well, that’s the craft.
    nc41 likes this.
  32. MikeFromMaryland

    MikeFromMaryland Initiate (121) Sep 30, 2019 Maryland

    For me it's the difference between a frozen apple pie and Mom's or Grandmom's apple pie. The frozen pie might be palatable but has limited character and certainly no love or soul. You can tell almost instantly the beer made with love and soul. I'm not sure it can be expressed correctly in words. You just know.
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  33. unlikelyspiderperson

    unlikelyspiderperson Poo-Bah (2,056) Mar 12, 2013 California
    Society Trader

    Definitely seems like a term that's lost its meaning. According to the BA you can apparently specialize in hard seltzers and alco iced teas and be a craft brewery. You can use adjuncts and flavorings (including the types of artificial flavorings and colorings featured in dollar store candy) and be considered craft beer. You can brew a mediocre product, not date code it, and let it rot on store shelves and be considered a craft brewery. None of that really sits well with me if we're trying to define an industry segment that does beer "better"

    I don't think the term will be salvageable. As noted above, "craft" and "artisinal" are being over used and abused across the culture for every category of product. I'm guessing the BA will keep expanding the definition until it is truly meaningless and I wouldn't be surprised if eventually they carved out space for certain brands owned by inbev and the like.

    When I use the term nowadays, I just use it to refer to that segment of the beer market that is not the major pale adjunct lagers. Its only real function seems to be to designate that you're disregarding the bulk of drinkers that choose the same brand of industrial lager when you are talking about some trend or tendency in the beer market
  34. Providence

    Providence Crusader (797) Feb 24, 2010 Rhode Island

    This is really challenging. Below is the best I can come up with, and it only applies to the term craft beer here in the US, it's not a definition that I think works globally.

    Craft beer comes from brewers who are trying to make money by selling predominately beer that possesses a flavor profile that has been historically under-appreciated in the United States.

    Yeah, that's not very good. But it's the best I got right now.
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  35. LesDewitt4beer

    LesDewitt4beer Meyvn (1,190) Jan 25, 2021 Minnesota

    Agreed that the term "Craft Beer" is too easily adhered to in these times by many facets of the beer consuming and producing populous. The term doesn't reflect quality in any way shape or form. Not all experiments end well, last long or even turn out at all but IMHO kinda the main premise for making new beers and revamping old ones is not to be competitive or widely distributed so much. It's more of an occupational offering of talent and craft to make beer that is personally satisfying with the intent to hopefully satisfy others, brewing broader styles than the big box brewers and the craft of having working relationships with the small, independent and or local producers (if it makes good business sense) for ingredients. I dunno. What can we do? How can we distinguish these things. Do local liquor laws contort or re-shape the terminology for classification reasons? Production volume? Taxation? I'm just a beer lover who loves lovin' the love of beer!
    I have an idea.
    How about this: Craft Beers aren't bottled, canned or distributed (except for growlers, etc) and aren't sold outside of the brewery. Micro brews are.
  36. nc41

    nc41 Poo-Bah (2,771) Sep 25, 2008 North Carolina
    Society Trader

    Imo that’s one thing that makes beers like Budweiser so consistent, they’re a huge customer by any measure, they’re first in line, and their beers aren’t hop dependent. That helps a lot too.
  37. deleted_user_373835

    deleted_user_373835 Initiate (168) Sep 24, 2009

    I don't think that just because you are a small independent brewer you are making Craft beer. It needs to meet a certain standard and you need to explore different recipes and be able to pull them off with a certain good result. With the explosion of breweries and tasting rooms there are more and more brewers where they are desperately trying to make beer but there are much better options available even from the likes of AB InBev. If a brewery is one-and-done for me then I don't consider them Craft. And AB InBev has acquired some breweries whose beers I still enjoy after change in ownership. A Craft Brewer should know when to drain-pour a batch as it just isn't up to serving, and also needs to know how to repeat consistently those winners they create.
  38. MNAle

    MNAle Poo-Bah (2,366) Sep 6, 2011 Minnesota

    A craft brewer is any brewer that has a USA beer production volume of less than 2% of AB-Inbev worldwide (~ 9 million barrels, currently) and is not a brand of any brewer that has a worldwide beer production volume of greater than 10% of AB-Inbev (~45 million barrels, currently).

    A craft beer is any beer brewed by a craft brewer, no matter how crappy it is.

    There ya go, and much more succinct than the tortured Brewers Association definition.
  39. cavedave

    cavedave Poo-Bah (3,097) Mar 12, 2009 New York
    Society Trader

    Talk about covering something from every angle. Excellent article that does just that.
    JackHorzempa likes this.
  40. DIM

    DIM Poo-Bah (3,422) Sep 28, 2006 Pennsylvania

    Hard to nail this down, lots of good answers so far. I'll say, "Beer that's made with love for money".
    MikeFromMaryland likes this.