“Craft” or Flavour?

What are you going to choose? For me, ten times out of ten, it’s going to be flavour. Even if at times it does cause me a bit of discomfort.

I have been thinking about this as a result of Alan’s post about a “post-craft” world, which I will openly admit I only understood in part, but about which I saw fit to comment nonetheless. (In truth, I find it’s that way sometimes with Mr. McL’s posts. I want to fully understand where he’s going with them, but the route does occasionally take a rather tangential path.) Then came last night’s lager drinking.

I was in a lager kind of mood, thanks perhaps to wistfully thinking about Oktoberfest, which is currently in full flight, and for whatever reason had only a handful of helles-like lagers in the fridge. One of which was from Spaten, which is owned by the largest brewing company in the world, Anheuser-Busch InBev. Is it a great beer for its style? No, but it’s a pretty decent one, I must admit. Not an Augustiner, but neither a Löwenbräu, which is to say neither a world-beater nor a disappointment. (Löwenbräu, I might add, is also owned by ABIB.)

Since I was in the midst of a prolonged period of cooking — lasagna, if you must know — my glass was empty before its time and I went to prowl the fridge for something similar. And I found Cameron’s Lager, a beer from a small brewery located just west of Toronto, and hence by almost any definition “craft.” It’s also, I see from the company website, a World Beer Cup bronze medalist, and a beer that in my opinion tasted significantly inferior to the Spaten.

My next try after not finishing the Cameron’s came from an even smaller brewery, Barley Days, located to the east of my home city. Loyalist Lager, it’s called, and it sadly represented yet another step down from the Spaten. It, too, went unfinished, and I turned my attentions to a very credible Doppelbock from Eggenberg.

My point being that I would have happily traded in all my craft lagers for one more can of the Spaten, because it had the taste and character I was craving while the others did not. “Craft” wasn’t what was going to quench my thirst last night, flavour was.



11 Replies to ““Craft” or Flavour?”

  1. Some of the worst beers I’ve had in my life could have legitimately been called “craft”. In other words (and I don’t think I’m going to say anything new) “craft”, just like “real”, “Belgian”, “Czech” or even “local”, doesn’t guarantee quality, they are just labels.

  2. While, as usual, Max has hit the nail on the head. Also as usual, I’ll take it a step further: there is a “movement”, primarily in the US, but also elsewhere, to redefine beer and virtually everything about it. This includes mythology that is re-labeled as “history”, alleged “styles” that seem to spontaneously and voluminously erupt (such as black pale ale), ignoring the long history of beer to produce beverages that have a tenuous connection to beer, but call them beer nevertheless, and finally, gather in online foras where they plot further atrocities.

    I’ll close with one question: if a company says “we make the best (type of product)”, would you accept them at their word? If not, why do you accept that a brewery that calls its beer “craft” is any different?

  3. [Don’t expect to make these things easy on you, Mr. B. !]

    I don’t think we have seen the death of “craft” discussions but I think hat post of Jeff’s post, the one that triggered my admittedly rapid fire post, was stunning in its clarity about the ultimate pointlessness of the concept. It’s not that we’ll disagree what “craft” means from here on. I think there will be a shift to those who retain it and those who abandon it. Hopefully “small” and “real” will follow unless a justification can be found.

    My pleasure in beer has become utterly disconnected to scale of production and price – which is incredibly disconcerting if you think of the role of the marketplace and what this means about the nature (maturity? sophistication?) of the consumer. “Craft” is like all the other non-descriptive descriptors of branding – “traditional” or “innovative” or “punk” or “taste cold” – which clutter the marketplace and the discourse. No wonder it is hard to write about the subject while abandoning the accepted lexicon.

  4. Unless, that is, one looks at “craft” as a delineation of time rather than an expectation of quality. In Canada and the US, and perhaps in Europe, as well, “craft” can stand for the movement of breweries that has arisen since roughly 1980, or in other words, the heirs to “microbreweries.”

    In this fashion, we can group together De Struise and Dogfish head, Sierra Nevada and Mikkeller, without needing to cast judgement on their merits and failings. Craft = good? No. Craft = relatively new? Quite possibly.

  5. I think it would be interesting to do a comparative tasting of representative beers of breweries and brewpubs established since the 1970’s in England against those of small breweries in existence for much longer such as Batham, Donnington, Holt, Hyde, and the surviving historical home brew pubs like Swan. Are the new generation going after a different palate or is it all over the map? You could do the same thing for Belgium.


  6. I like the idea of era or movement as being craft. I would include Blue Moon in that era, too, as it was caused and has been successful only due to the meaning of craft as an era or movement.

    But are we now at the end of that era? Is it still useful?

  7. I still find the term useful in the North American context and in parts of Europe. Most beer produced in North America is light beer or regular-calorie light (in body) American lager. The craft-style beers of the big brewers don’t much get into the craft ballpark for me except Blue Moon, the white beers from the big Canadian brewers, and a few others, but their sale must be very small in comparison to the current Big 10 in Ontario’s Beer Store for example:


    Of this group of 10, perhaps Heineken is the only beer that crosses boundaries with the craft approach, but even there many would disagree I think..


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