Sunday, 20 October 2013

Blue Fucking Moon

Earlier this week James Watt of Brewdog posted a blog on his brewery's website outlining his opinion on how Europe needs a solid, legal definition on what constitutes a 'Craft Brewery' and I agree with many of his points (word of warning, don't watch the video unless you want to vomit your adult beverage over your computer.) The article is worth a read and if you put aside the FREEDOM and REVOLUTION bullshit which to be honest is there in refreshingly small amounts then it actually make a lot of sense. In the United States the Brewers Association have clear guidelines on what constitutes a craft brewery and this brings a much needed asset to their industry, unity

Imagine, if you will, no more pointless arguments about what defines craft beer, SIBA, CAMRA and my own beloved CAMRGB in complete agreement about what actually constitutes that damned prefix. Independent Breweries, regardless of the styles they brew and the methods they use to dispense their beers will be in the same ballpark. Black Sheep next to Buxton, Thwaites next to Thornbridge, Fullers next to The Kernel... If we adopted the same principles as our American cousins it could bring the independent arm of British brewing together and in turn make it stronger. At the moment some people treat the brewing industry like they are separate, splintered industries but this isn't the case, there isn't a brewing and a craft brewing industry, this is the drinks industry. Feel free to badmouth the huge corporations who are seemingly only in it for the money but ultimately even the smallest outfits who do it for the love of beer have to make ends meet at the end of the day.

Sadly, I feel that the UK brewing industry is so old and segregated that it will never happen, at least not during this generation. It's a rapidly changing part of our economy that's incredibly difficult to keep up with, I can't imagine what it will be like in 5, 10 or even 20 years but craft beer is here to stay, that's for certain.

I do however have one major argument with James' post, why the brazen attack on Blue Moon? Sure, it's not a great beer and it's a Coors product that's manufactured to turn as great a profit as possible but it isn't the reason we need a solid definition of craft beer in Europe. Blue Moon was invented in a Micro Brewery (that's what we used to call Craft Breweries back in the day), a Micro Brewery just like the ones that produce so many of the beers we love. The day Keith Villa, a real human man, went into work at the Sandlot Brewery inside Denver's Coors Field one day in 1995 and conceived Belly Slide Belgian Wit he probably had no idea that it would become a global, mass-marketed product. Sure enough, Belly Slide Belgian Wit massively outsold every other beer the Sandlot were brewing at the time and it went on to become the iconoclastic wheat beer we seemingly either loathe or feel completely indifferent about today.

The Sandlot is still there selling it's range of European style pilsners and whatnot, and with the form of the Colorado Rockies it's not surprising that their fans are in need of a few cold beers during a game. In fact The Sandlot just won the 'Best Large Brewery' award at this years Great American Beer Festival, it's not a large brewery, it's actually quite small but it's a part of the same company as a very, very big brewery so that means that it doesn't brew craft beer. I wonder what Sandlot brewmaster Tom Hall, another real human man, would have to say about that? 

The other reason it's pointless to attack brands such as Blue Moon is that eight out of ten people that drink it couldn't give a flying fuck what craft beer is. Those are the folks with the slice of orange floating in their beer, getting on with their lives, potentially even enjoying their short time on this mortal coil. One of the other two is staring at that piece of orange, wondering why it's there. He/She usually orders a pint of say, Estrella or maybe a Doom Bar if they're feeling adventurous but that advert at the bus stop has stuck in their head and here they are drinking a witbier, not a very good witbier but still an actual witbier. Maybe they'll really like it, maybe they'll start a grand voyage of beery discovery. Who knows what they'll try next, Camden Gentleman's Wit? Pressure Drop Wallbanger? If this beer inspires one in ten people to expand their horizons then surely that's a good thing? Hell, if it inspires one in a hundred it's a good thing.

And what of the other person in the ten? Well that's someone like me, maybe it even is me, a craft wanker. 'All of the ales on offer in this pub are twiggy and boring, I know, I'll drink Blue Moon, maybe I'll drink seven pints of it and wash it down with a bellyful of Laphroaig afterwards. Maybe I'll spend some time getting acquainted with a toilet bowl later because I got absolutely hammered.' Maybe this DID happen to me. Was it because I was drinking Blue Fucking Moon? Was it bollocks.

Corporate brewing is not the enemy of craft brewing, it's all part of the same massive industry. If Brewdog put an iota of the energy they focus on hatemongering against brands such as Blue Moon into making fucking amazing beer then I'd wager they'd make a lot more fucking amazing beer. How many people have discovered craft beer via Blue Moon? How many people will now discover it via Goose Island IPA? That's now an AB-InBev mass marketed product brewed at the Budweiser Plant in Fort Collins, Colorado after all. That means it's definitely not craft beer despite them calling it so, but it's still damn tasty, right?

Let's define craft brewing in the UK, lets make it a thing, a real, actual thing. Whether a brewery chooses to associate themselves with it, use it in their marketing or not, that's totally up to them but for the good of the growth of this crazy industry, lets do it. Let's not victimise beer that lest we forget is still brewed by real, actual people who might love their jobs and be proud of what they do. Sure they might go home and drink craft beer after a day of brewing Bud or Miller or whatever but they're still crafting beer whatever you want to call it.

52 comments:

  1. "How many people will now discover it via Goose Island IPA?"

    Funnily enough, there's evidence to suggest Punk IPA began life as an imitation of Goose Island.

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    1. I heard that it was heavily based on Stone IPA, at least the original non-supermarket friendly version.

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    2. I think Punk was actually an "imitation" of Jaipur, for reasons that should be obvious.

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    3. That's right - original recipe inspired by Jaipur, inspired in turn by Goose Island; label copy inspired by Stone.

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    4. you might call it a 'pale' immitation...

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    5. I heard that it was one of the development recipes for Jaipur? The recipe has changed a lot from what people say and we opened a can, bottle and had a half of it lined up on the bar a few months ago and they were different colours. Can was the best in my opinion, so they should probably go for the Thwaites recipe of it...

      The back of the bottle reads pretty much the same as the back of Stone's Arrogant Bastard too. It's a rip off of everything, but it's done very well and they have raised the profile of interesting beers so all in all they're not 100% bad.

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  2. ... punk IPA began it's life as an imitation of stone ipa & 5am saint began it's life as an imitation of 3 floyds alpha king. both shite, cheaply made versions of the so-called 'craft beer' they are pretending to be.

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    1. I actually really like Punk IPA and drink it quite often, I used to drink a lot of 5am Saint too but my tastes have changed. Lupulin threshold shift and all that.

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    2. If you're gonna take influence from a beer than Stone IPA is one hell of a beer to go with.
      In fact if anyone wanted to replicate Stone IPA and deliver it fresh to my door then I'm all the more for it.

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  3. I've been thinking of doing a ''Blue Fucking Moon'' post myself. Surely having an ''official'' craft beer definition is pointless as Blue Moon is proudly labelled as craft beer despite not fitting the official definition.

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    1. If we had an official, legal definition Coors would no longer be able to call it a craft beer.

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    2. Legal definition? Who's going to enact and enforce that though? Send in the BrewDog mafia? I seriously doubt you're going to get any protected status for the term "craft beer" from anyone who the big-boy brewers are going to listen to. CAMRA and SIBA on-board? That'd still be meaningless...

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    3. So you don't think it could happen then?

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    4. Only by self-regulation, and then only if you get the big-boys on-board, Portman perhaps? Not sure if this is within their remit. But BrewDog are quite happy to play ball with the brewers their pretend to hate[1]... so maybe they do have a big-boy-friendly approach in mind. Maybe BrewDog are the next LetThereBeBeer, craft-trojan-horse?

      [1] http://philcook.net/beerdiary/2013/07/02/brewdog-boundary-road-and-becoming-the-villain/

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  4. In an ideal world, having the old traditional brewers working under the same banner as the new wave would do wonders for independent brewers. A united front of cask and keg taking on macro lagers. Be it under the word 'craft' or not, a unified industry would be superb.
    However, I'm not entirely sure that's what James Watt really intends to happen. I remember reading a blogpost from a BrewDog sales exec who commended the likes of Castle Rock and Boggart's for distributing BD beer and 'getting it' from the outset. I think they've distanced themselves as much as possible from those sort of brewers these days. Remember, 'old fusty ales' are part of the 'institution'.
    Considering BrewDog went down a very divisive route, it would be a massive turn around to start accepting the likes of Fuller's as a 'craft brewer'.

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    1. It's interesting you mention Fullers, a lot of people do. I think they're definitely a 'craft' brewery, by James' proposed definition they 'make the cut' as it were. Interestingly Sierra Nevada produce THREE times as much beer as Fullers and everyone considers them a craft brewery.

      Just because a brewery is old or 'traditional' shouldn't take away their right to call themselves a craft brewery.

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    2. Agreed.
      Just seems like it's gone round in a bit of a circle for BrewDog. They evidently once relied on the micro-brewing industry to get their name out there, those brewers were then left behind in a sense and now BrewDog are back to 'unify' small independent brewers under the craft banner.
      I find it interesting that Greg Koch has weighed in as well. Less cynical about his intentions but I imagine he's not massively clued up on the current state of British brewing industry (could be wrong). Stone once brewed at Shepherd Neame for 'spoons - would BrewDog be comfortable with a brewer that uses clear bottles to be labelled a 'craft brewer'?
      The problem for me is that a lot of brewers that would come under James' definition make 'old fusty ales'. Something BrewDog have always been quite critical of. They may have to tone down their marketing strategy in order to make it work and be inclusive of all micro-brewers, not just ones that fit a trend.

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    3. I had a nice chat with a nice man from Shep Neame about the clear glass beers. He said 'Those beers aren't aimed at you' meaning us, the beer geeks. Those beers are for the eight out of ten couldn't give a fuck about 'craft' beer types. Of course now Shep Neame are brewing that new IPA and Double Stout, the latter is really good in fact AND they're in brown bottles, those are marketed towards beer geeks.

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    4. I'd like to point out this isn't intended to be a 'BrewDog bash'! (Although that sounds like one hell of a party). I think having a clear definition of 'craft' would be a good idea.
      I just think that there has been a clear division between them and the traditionalists and to make the definition work for everyone there would have to be a stop in the all the tiresome bullshit i.e. cask vs keg *yawn*.

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    5. They're a young company run by young guys and they're learning. They're supposed animosity towards traditional British brewing hasn't stopped them from getting all their canned beer being brewed and canned by Thwaites for example.

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    6. Yeh, someone told me about that recently. It's funny, I think Stone are dead against contract brewing. It's like there's this whirlwind of conflicting ideas and assumptions about different practices and in the end it all comes to one thing. If the beer is good then that's all that matters.
      I mean look at some of the stuff Goose Island produce, we all know they're InBev owned but that won't stop me and plenty of other craft wankers trying to get hold of the Bourbon County Stout range or their sours.

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    7. "If the beer is good then that's all that matters."

      Nail, head. :)

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    8. BrewDog are changing I think. Think about the changes in their bars: from having a Czech-style pilsner on permanent draft to lowering the price on non-beer products while raising the beer prices. The former entices the lad, the non-ale drinker, the non-discerning, and the latter keeps the non-beer person in the bar while their friends actually have pints of Punk.

      I think that's a far cry from the fuck-you-and-your-mainstream. And it goes to show that business is business. And business, if you do beer right, can be good.

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  5. There will never, ever be a consensus on "craft beer" for the simple reason that there is no such thing as craft beer. It is an ideology, not a type of beer.

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    1. Well, that's not entirely true because in America, where there are 2500+ breweries, they have one: http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/business-tools/craft-brewing-statistics/craft-brewer-defined

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    2. The US "craft" industry started from a very different base to the UK scene. The UK is coming to this from a different position and we already have SIBA filling the role that the (craft) brewer's association fills in the US. The only things that seems to be wrong here is that SIBA isn't faux-punk, trendy, and an asshat in public - to their credit IMO... What's the difference between a SIBA member and a "craft brewer"? Aside from the fact it doesn't work for BrewPoodle's marketing?

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    3. You're right, it did have very different beginnings and things are very different here, hence my comments in the blog about how I don't think it'll happen in our generation. HOWEVER the US beer scene is now nearly 3 times the size of our own, and growing at an exponentially faster rate. Wouldn't you like to see this happen over here? Industry body guidelines might just grease the wheels a little.

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    4. Nah, don't think we need all the bullshit and douchbaggery personally.

      I don't know the numbers... is the US craft brewing industry 3 times the size of the UK industry per-capita? "Growing at an exponentially faster rate" - given UK brewery-number growth of late which stats do you compare to derive "exponentially"? I do recognise that the "craft" idea seems to have greater penetration over the pond - but it is an apples/oranges comparison in my opinion.

      I'm quite happy with the way the industry is developing here as it is, and outside the viewport of BrewDog's marketing-to-the-general-public department (James Watt presumably) it is internally healthy, friendly, and growing. Of course brewers with world domination in mind probably see things differently, but that said most recognised 'craft' brewers I've spoken to are doing quite well, thankyou, and don't give much of a toss. BrewDog just need need food to grow on so they can achieve exit-velocity IMO.

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    5. I take it by 'bullshit' and 'douchebaggery' you mean 'hard work' and 'graft' because that's what it would take. I'll reiterate: It will not happen inside our generation.

      Here are some statistics for you: http://www.brewersassociation.org/pages/media/press-releases/show?title=brewers-association-reports-continued-growth-for-u-s-craft-brewers

      I can convert American Barrel sizes to HL for you if you'd like.

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    6. There are more breweries per capita in the UK than USA, and SIBA members sales growth and US craft brewers sales growth are a lot closer than exponentially different.

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    7. Yes, you're right, my figures are flawed. But we have lots of people densley packed on to an island and they have lots of space where there aren't a lot of people, if you took States like Louisiana and Utah out of the equation for example it'd look quite different.

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    8. I'm talking about the "craft scene" not the brewers or breweries - though some associate with and push the douchbaggery too. "Craft" is a flawed concept, not usefully definable even in the US, and not applicable to UK brewing. I just don't think we need it.

      Not sure about "generation" - there's a vast spread of them here I think. Anyway, I expect that outside of our lifetimes the idea of "craft" will probably be a hasbeen of the past... yet another dead fad ploughed into the ground. (Being able to enjoy a good beer will survive this process of course.)

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    9. Matt: Utah and Louisiana don't make any difference in per head, the only difference would be in a breweries per km2 measure, which would be a stupid measure of anything.

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    10. Fair point Ali, it was late and I was in a very argumentative mood when I wrote that, wasn't really thinking!

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  6. By the US definition, all the established family brewers in the UK are "craft". Which, of course, they are. Many of the current attempts to define "craft" come across as the outpourings of élitist wankers.

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    1. Yup, totally agree with you, and I've done the sums, James' definition would encompass pretty much all of our beloved independent family brewers! I wouldn't call that elitist.

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  7. If we ever do get a 'craft beer' delineation, I'm certain brew Dog will not qualify, regardless.

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  8. "Whatever style of beer you might prefer, all we ask is that you judge us by the quality of the beer in the glass" - Tom Long, CEO of MillerCoors

    "I think most people just want delicious and interesting beers to drink, and the size of the brewery that makes them matters far less than the quality of what's in their glass" Jim Galligan, Beer and Whisky Bros

    The answer to the question of whether a definition of 'Craft beer' matters is most definitely "Yes" but how we come to that definition is going to be incredibly complicated. That the two quotes above come from the US who have a (Brewers Association) definition is interesting insofar as they possibly come from the two ends of this debate. That they seemingly are more interested in the quality of the beer is very telling, however we can't forget that they know, or at least are far more sure than we in the UK are, of what constitutes 'Craft beer'. My concern is that this debate that has been the 'Elephant In The Room' for a good few years will not be resolved due to certain very vocal parties taking a dislike to some breweries (hello Greene King) and saying that they 'can't be craft because they don't do so and so ..'. That BrewDog, the brewery that we either love to hate or hate to love, have pushed this back to the fore could be looked at cynically and dismissed out of hand but it's going to take someone like them to actually make something happen and stop us all mumbling about it and dragging our feet.
    What I really like about this post Matt, is that it really is time to push and the personal opinion bullshit to one side and look at this 'Craft' thing constructively. We all have beers and breweries we don't like however we have to decide what is and what is not 'Craft' and put this issue to bed. Then, at last, can we get on with what we all really love doing and drink some of the amazing beer that's being produced in this country.

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    1. Thanks Justin, I appreciate your comments and sentiments :)

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  9. Great last paragraph. As an employee of one the larger brewing companies, I do occasionally occur the wrath of the craft wanker, but seldom that of the "craft" brewer who seem to appreciate the fact that brewing is brewing no matter what the scale.

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    1. Glad you enjoyed reading, thanks for the comment!

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  10. I've come a little late to this. The real elephant in the room about this is enforcement. In the (highly remote) chance that the majority of UK brewers agreed on and signed up to a definition of "craft beer" - then what? What's to stop the bigger companies (who are the ones least likely to sign up to anyhting) using the term regardless?

    At least "real ale" was much easier term to define and CAMRA's huge success was getting this in the OED which gives Trading Standards people something to go on. Little or no chance of that with "craft beer" I think. From my pretty wide experience I get the feeling that with drinkers, bar owners and brewers a certain amount of "craft exhaustion" is creeping in - they just want to concentrate on good beer and move on from this interminable and pointless debate. In fact the term "craft" is becoming something of a joke actually.

    If I was to make one prediction - despite this current showboating by James Watt (he more or less said the same thing at IMBC last year so this is nothing new anyway) - in 12 months time nothing will have changed. Time to stop agonisng and move on I think.

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    1. Thanks for your comments John, although I'm certainly not agonising about this, I genuinely think it won't happen but would like it to. I think it's because it's a difficult term to define that's why it's not happened but I still feel it would be for the benefit of the industry.

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  11. Just to interject something here from another perspective, please check out this article by Charlie Papazian, current president of the Brewers Association. If he thinks it can happen in the States despite their definition we definitely need something to protect it here.

    http://www.craftbeer.com/craft-beer-muses/craft-needs-its-definition

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    1. That's a great piece by Charlie Papizian, I'm a big fan of his work! I'm going to share this link, hope you don't mind...

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  12. I'd be all in favour of a bit of tightening up on advertising, getting some more transparency in there. Contract brewed, brewed under licence? Get it on the label. Then the person drinking it can decide if that puts them off. I think that protecting a product like Stilton cheese, Parma Ham etc is more about that than an idea that means so many different things to so many people. I guess I see what James is saying - I want to know if what I am drinking/eating is what I think it is - but I'm not sure that defining craft achieves that even assuming a definition is possible.

    Great post by the way Matt.

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    1. Thanks Gareth, I agree, I want to know where my beer comes from, who made it and what's in it.

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  13. This was tremendous. I'd never heard this perspective. And you are spot on with the Rockies this season sir.

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    1. Thanks Zach! It's a shame about the Rockies form but at least you have the Broncos killing it... and loads of great beer!

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  14. One of the biggest problems over here is that we are a nation who can be slightly over cautious in our attitude to change and innovation, and unfortunately SIBA is a prime example of this. SIBA only has about 50% of the brewers in the UK as members, and the national AGM this year only had 200 bums on seats from all of these 600 members. Only 250 chairs had even been laid out from my rough count, so this was probably the number that they anticipated. Bearing in mind that brewers often go two-by-two to such events, that means that fewer than 1 in 6 breweries felt that it was worth their while sending a representative to the AGM. I also witnessed a brewer called Buster Grant who gave his opinion on an aspect SIBA during the AGM be rather rudely and brushed aside by the committee. This is not the attitude or action of a progressive and inclusive trade body, and I very much doubt that this would happen at the Craft Beer Conference in the US (to which many UK went this year).

    CAMRA isn't an organisation that will ever be helpful in these sorts of battles. They are certainly not my cup of tea, but they campaigned for the continuation of the brewing of cask ale, and their work has undoubtedly helped because without them we would have even fewer pubs who had a clue what to do with a cask.

    We need a proper body to which the brewers can belong before we can get any proper progress on such things as definitions. One such organisation could be the Institute of Brewing and Distilling which promotes education and quality, but isn't quite so much of a social club so will probably never be a popular group amongst those who are brewing more for fashion than good flavour.

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