Social Media and Trending Reporter for nzherald.co.nz

Stop calling it 'craft': Kiwi brewers share notes towards a definition of good beer

Attempting to define "craft beer"  was far more difficult than it first appeared. Photo / Getty Images
Attempting to define "craft beer" was far more difficult than it first appeared. Photo / Getty Images

Being into "craft beer" is so trendy these days, isn't it? A bit like being vegan, but way more fun.

(Seriously, so much more fun.)

But what is "craft beer" anyway? I'm one of those who'll happily tell you their interests include craft beer but I hope you don't ask me any follow up questions because I'm not even entirely sure what I'm talking about.

When I talk about craft beer versus regular beer, I'm talking about beer brewed in small batches, with no nasty chemicals, and generally costing a lot more than I should be spending on alcohol. But does that match everybody's definition?

In my quest to find out what it is that I'm actually talking about, I decided to go straight to the source and ask craft brewers themselves.

I thought I was going to end up with a very clear definition of "craft beer" but, proving even beer-related columns can have plot-twists, I didn't. Instead, I found that the issue, like the beer I'm dreaming of drinking right now, is a lot more complex than it first appears.

It turns out that not only can people agree on how to define "craft beer", some people have stopped referring to it as "craft beer" altogether.

Stop using the c-word, suggests Zeelandt Brewery's Christopher Barber

Photo / File
Photo / File

"The term craft beer for me is a quick and easy way to define independent breweries from the multinationals. I think it's too hard to define and I don't think it needs to be. I try to just use the word beer. The Beer Spot on the North Shore [in Auckland] have a 'swear jar' for anyone using the 'c' word."

It's all about the quality, says Epic Beer's Luke Nicholas

Photo / File
Photo / File

"It has been a term people have used to describe beer that isn't mainstream beer brewed by big breweries. But as the market has grown and the lines are becoming blurry as some of the more successful craft breweries have grown, and some bought out by big breweries.

"Looking to the US market some of the top craft brewers have grown to a size where they produce more beer than either of the largest NZ breweries.

"A few years ago I had the privilege of attending Beer Camp at the Sierra Nevada Brewery, there it was obvious to me what the difference between craft beer and non-craft beer might be.

"To me, craft beer is about beer that is brewed for the quality and flavour of the beer. Then there is the other beer, beer that is focused on price and value, with the ultimate goal of delivering a return/dividend/profit to the owners/shareholders.

Is it about the beer or is it about the money?"

It's about fighting the 'faux-craft', says Garage Project's Jos Ruffell

Photo / File
Photo / File

"It's fairly simple for us, we don't call ourselves a craft brewery, or as much as is practically possible, use the term. We made the decision a few years ago and removed the word 'craft' from all our packaging, website and promotional materials. We are a small independent brewery and we're happy with that. The waters get murky quite quickly when you attempt to define 'craft', and we've found that the larger breweries have attempted to blur the lines introducing 'faux craft' labels to confuse the market."

Forget dictionary definitions, just support local brewers, says Behemoth Brewing Company's Andrew Childs

Photo / Facebook
Photo / Facebook

"I do no really subscribe to a definition of craft beer. The American Brewers Association has very strict definition of what craft beer is. New Zealand does not have that. I personally think about whether beer is good or not first and foremost. Some beer by small breweries is amazing, some beer from small breweries is crap. Some beer from big breweries is amazing and some is crap. It's all shades of grey.

"What I can say that like any industry I would love people to support New Zealand-owned and made products, including beer. Most of New Zealand beer is made and owned by three large corporations. Lion (owned by Japenese Kirin who is in turn part owned by Mitsubishi Group), Dominion Breweries (owned by Dutch Heineken Asia Pacific) and Independent Liquor (owned by Japan's Asahi). Now this is the nature of business and those three multi-billion dollar companies make up well over 90 per cent of the beer sold in NZ.

"Should Macs, Monteith's, Boundary Road etc be considered craft beer? Probably not. But I don't know if that matters. They are usually gateway beers that can get people interested in independently NZ owned beer. I am friends with people who have sold their breweries to the above mentioned international brewing conglomerates. They have all worked hard and produced some great beer. The market will continue to change but at its heart I think that all New Zealanders should try and support locally owned businesses and allow the New Zealand Brewing scene to grow and flourish."

It's all about the people, says Tuatara Brewery's Scott Boswell

Photo / Instagram
Photo / Instagram

"As a very general overview, I would say that craft beer is a reaction to the commodification of beer through the course of the 20th Century, with typically small-scale brewers seeking to brew more traditional and more complex beer styles, finding a relatively small but growing audience of receptive drinkers who also resisted the homogenising effect that the dominant breweries had on beer styles.

"It is a rediscovery and revitalisation of distinct regional styles and a deliberate reaction against the standardisation of the beer world. In that sense, it represents a political and ideological opposition to the change that was being done to us - an anti-establishment counter-culture movement, a spirit of independence that sought an alternative to the lager, draught and black that had become standard beer fare through the course of the 20th Century. Craft offers a new direction for beer.

"Craft beer is seen through the lens of the 'local', small businesses embedded in the communities they are from, benefiting from the broader Locavore movement, where there is a greater emphasis from drinkers (and broader consumers) on supporting local industry, as well as more artisan production - witnessed in everything from bean-to-bar chocolate to small-scale peanut butter merchants to the weekend farmers' markets.

"Craft beer is about people, celebrating the human touch, with all the vagaries and subtle variances that implies. Beer here is personal and handcrafted rather than industrialised and manufactured. Craft celebrates the passion, creativity and artisanship of the brewers, and the diversity of tastes and preferences of drinkers."

- NZ Herald

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