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Defining Craft - this is what you, I and everybody else probably sounds like

At some point in the last two years, whilst drinking delicious beer but choking on the hell being spoken about it, I decided that I was not going to get involved in any form of discussion surrounding the defining of “craft.” Craft is already a word. The Oxford Dictionary defines Craft as… OK, I’m not going to do that little doozy here. This is “Craft” when being applied very specifically to the brewing of beer.

I decided to break my proposed silence on the defining of Craft Beer after drinking a can of Club Colombia Roja, 4.7%, on Friday night. Club Colombia are a (oh-you-guessed-it) Colombian beer company I know two things about:

1)      They do another beer, a golden lager, to this that is served in golden cans that I had once in a dirty Manchester Travelodge on New Year’s Eve, 2012.

2)      They come from Colombia.

I have a friend who teaches in Colombia and returns every summer with such presents, just in case you were wondering how I came by this beer. It’s certainly more appreciated than the sugar free Fire Water drink he brings, but less so than the Viagra. I could give you more information about this Bogota based beer but their website chooses to make itself impossibly difficult for Google to translate and my GCSE Spanish stopped being used once I finished banging a Spanish student. 

Since I know very little about this beer, I imagined drinking this beer as a beer writer (which I arguably am, though sporadically.) I pictured that my friend gave me this beer with the words “this is a beer from Colombia’s hottest CRAFT brewery” rather than the macro brewery they are. I pictured myself opening and tasting this beer that so few of my beer geek peers have tried and these are the results:-

Club Colombia Roja is an oxymoronic Red Lager, a style entirely new to me. Presented in a newly crafted can, this genre defining beer was first brewed in 2010, with imported hops and an exclusive selection of roasted malts to create a gift for the people of Colombia. The idea that a lager can be red, in contrast to their famous golden pilsner excites me as I open this.

I choose to drink it straight from the can initially and, without seeing any colour, immediately put my nose to a sweet, maple scent that is certainly heavy on the malts. There’s quite a biscuit bite here but something floral is evident in the background. To taste, it reminds me of a less heavy Bock beer. There is a lot of strong maltiness in there but it is penetrated by light, bouncy hops similar to the Saaz used in their other brew. I can’t resist pouring it into a glass to get a look at it and see the orange shade and high carbonation. Served either way, the finish is a little insipid and lacks any memory that will make me believe that red lager is a style I want to revisit. Still, I feel they have created a drinkable Bock beer and that is interesting. I am excited to try other craft beers coming from the Southern Americas.

Why is this nonsense? It’s nonsense because I’m close to openly ridiculing beer reviewing, something I’ve done myself many a time. It’s nonsense because it shows how much drinking “craft” beer is context. It’s nonsense because Club Colombia doesn't request or insinuate that it wants it's beer so thoroughly analysed – and at this point I’m assuming that all the words I can’t translate on their website aren’t screaming WE’RE CRAFT AS FUCK.

So here is where we come back to defining “Craft Beer.”

I should make it clear at this stage that I want no definition of it. I am also thoroughly aware that this is a discussion that was growing tired in 2013. I am not stupid, just go along with me on this one. 

Brewing is a craft. It’s a very difficult craft and one where only those very skilled at it are truly successful. It’s just like carpentry. That’s a craft and a very difficult one too. However, when Ingvar Kamprad started to try and develop a method of making flat pack, do-it-yourself furniture for the Swedish market, that was changing his craft into something very different. It was remarkable and undoubtedly something he crafted. So when I see my one-of-a-kind, dark brown, exclusive coffee table next to my Billy bookcase, I think nothing between the two. I don’t think craft, I just think GENIUS, on both accounts.

Perhaps we all have this idyllic vision of “Craft” brewers who spend their days carefully selecting the most perfect Simcoe hops off the plants themselves, flying them over, ploughing through the maltings themselves, checking the temperature of the beer with a smile whilst cheekily wiping the sweat from their brow and having the time to sit and watch the fermentation process from the comfort of an armchair whilst a poster behind them reads “Job Well Done.” The truth is, producing good, consistent, marketable and viable beer is a tough process that requires a lot of frustration and a lot of machinery. It may well be hand crafted initially, until the business side of it gives you a nudge and suddenly you need all the help you can get. That’s the truth, right? But wasn’t it once true that Timothy Taylor was working on a small batch of beer, like some mad Scientist, to find what he considered to be the perfect brew long before the explosion of his company we see today? Wasn’t he crafting beer? Weren't the people responsible for Club Colombia trying to craft something enjoyable? Isn't that word already perfectly defined?

I have the feeling that defining craft beer is simply to make an elitist group that we can then attribute what we consider to be good beer to. I also imagine that there are certain bloggers who would, in their darkest recesses of honesty that they may have once in a while, define “craft” with similar words like “American,” “hoppy,” “modern” and “hipster.” You don’t get beer.

I need no separate definition of what is “craft” brewing and what is not. Neither do you, whether you think you do or not. Just as an example, I imagine these people looking for clear definition would rate Daniel Thwaites’ regular brewery as non-craft but Crafty Dan as Craft. Use this as an example to explain your own bullshit.

In fact which guild of Craft Brewing aficionados are ruling this bourgeois group and allowing the term Craft to be applied to specific beer? I think we can all agree on certain excellent brewers who would be initiated automatically, but who monitors it then? Who decides out of the scores of new breweries creating unoriginal, average and inconsistent beers who becomes part of this guild? Who do we not hate enough to allow them to rule over the industry with their decisions on what is good and what is old?

Club Colombia Roja - of all the beers, of all the purchases and of all the tastings, this was the one that made me have to talk about that word and it's use. I would never have thought in a million years...

I’m ashamed I let myself get called into any kind of opinion on this subject and should have simply added this to my list of Everything Wrong with Beer. Still, we continue to intellectualise, define and over-analyse every GODDAMN thing. Please let this be an end to another piece of political beer bull. I thought I told you to ENJOY BEER, was nobody listening? 


Mark Johnson said…
I was recently in a pub and happened to just flick through a Good Beer Guide 2000 (so obviously written in 1999.) I smiled when I fell upon a page that referred to "craft breweries" in reference to micro-breweries. It made me think about your comment here, how it has possibly been around so much longer than we think and that current definitions are needless. We all consider it to be something so new, but it obviously is not.

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