Letters to the Editor August 2017

Is the craft label dead?

The Editor’s Note of the June 2017 Pursuit of Hoppiness focused on the issue of the usefulness of the term “craft” beer by highlighting the news that the Australian Craft Beer Industry Association has rebranded itself as the Independent Brewers Association.

The editor sees this a positive move and is a fan of killing off the term “craft” as applied to beer: “And if we can do anything to end the use of ‘craft’ as a signpost for good beer, that would be a win too”.

“Independent has real meaning” he states. Maybe, but does it have real usefulness?

It obviously does for a group who want to define themselves against the big players but what about us craft beer fans?

Are any of the replacement contenders any use?

“Local” has been touted in some quarters. This embodies something of what is encompassed by the craft term, but not everything.

There is a brewery near me, for instance, that is independent so that makes it both local and independent but I know it doesn’t see itself as “craft”.

The term “independent” though, obviously is important. The Brewers Association in the US has just introduced an independent craft brewer seal for members to use on beer packaging. They are “the membership organization dedicated to promoting and protecting small and independent craft brewers in the United States. The BA defines a craft brewer as small, traditional and independent”.

Small, of course, is relative. They also say that “as of January 2017, more than 5,300 operating breweries exist in the U.S. Ninety-nine percent of those breweries are considered small and independent”. And their definition of small is producing less than 6,000,000 barrels a year (by my maths 702,000,000L of beer).

The situation gets murkier still with the faux craft breweries, especially those under the wing of the Big Two. And what about Emerson’s, Panhead and Tuatara? Are they still craft breweries?

I tend to think of the beer scene as a continuum with mass-produced commercial beer at one end and home brewers at the other. And businesses can move along it.
At the moment you could say Emerson’s, Panhead and Tuatara are shifting from right to left on such a continuum, while Black Dog could be seen as moving in the other direction.

This works for me as an image better than an either/or dichotomy.

Quality is another factor that confuses the situation as just because a NZ beer is “craft” is no guarantee it is good. The term craft is definitely problematic and I understand where people like Kerry Gray of Choice Bros, who was quoted in The Spinoff recently as saying he is not a fan of the term craft beer as it has no real meaning, are coming from.

The issue comes into stark relief if I go to an unfamiliar bar and ask (usually peering over the bar into the chiller as I can already see the stock offerings on tap) “do you have any craft beer?” The answer is often “We’ve got (insert any big brewery-owned faux craft label here)”. Aah, I think, that’s not what I meant.

It’s easy to get a sense of what the term means but because it is so difficult to define, the meaning easily changes from person to person. I tried to tie it down for myself but seem to come up with a collection of words like flavoursome, innovative, interesting, exciting, hand crafted, locally owned, etc., so I’m no help.

That said, I don’t feel we should throw the baby out with the bath water. The current talk about killing off the term “craft” as a way of describing beer is a bit short-sighted if there isn’t a valid descriptor ready to take over from it. I know what it represents for me even if it’s hard to define or articulate, and will continue to use it until something better comes along.

Gavin Scoble

888ml bottles not racist

Jason Gurney’s article on Cassel’s and Sons 888ml bottles for the Asian market is a salutary lesson in why applying one’s own cultural filters is not always a good idea, especially when one is prepared to bandy about words like “xenophobic”.

The article was so cringe-worthy and culturally tone-deaf that I’m surprised you published it. Gurney may as well have said “surely Asians aren’t dumb enough to be sucked into all this malarkey about lucky numbers”.

Within Chinese culture, numbers do have significant meaning attached to them. For example, four is considered unlucky due to the similarity with the word for death (many elevators don’t have a fourth floor button) and eight is a lucky number as the sound of the word has connotations of wealth.

Many Chinese have a strong preference for picking things like cellphone numbers, car number plates and dates for important occasions if they have eights in them. I asked my significant other (she’s Taiwanese) whether she thought 888ml bottles were a good idea for the Asian market and she responded that the breweries concerned should emphasise the 888ml capacity of their bottles as much as possible in their marketing.

Hadley Cave

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