Thu 30 Mar 2017

What is Craft Beer?


I’ve been thrilled by members’ enthusiastic response to our new (and expanding) craft beer range, as well as to my previous blog post on the subject.

Craft beer is among the most adaptive, interesting and fast-moving sectors of the drinks industry today, with a new brewery popping up in the UK every two days at the start of 2016 and with sales continuing to grow year on year. The choice is so vast for beer drinkers now that there’s almost no need to go to the major international breweries for your beer.

The question still remains, though: what exactly is craft beer?

Francesca Slattery & Klára Nagy, Five Points Brewing Co.

Francesca Slattery & Klára Nagy, The Five Points Brewing Co.

There is no real, hard and fast definition of craft beer, but much like the movement itself, this means things are able to constantly evolve and adapt. This is a large part of what makes it all so exciting.

So in order to make it clear, we have to be vague!

Since there are no rules, here is my personal view on how to explain it.

• True craft beer is independent. Craft breweries are in complete control over the way they run their company and what they brew. They don’t answer to a bigger company and are therefore freer to experiment.

• If it says ‘craft’ on the label, it’s probably not craft. Now this is by no means definite, BUT be wary of any beer which is a little too eager to push the fact it’s craft, because if it relies too heavily on this, it probably isn’t! This is a common trick used by some of the world’s biggest beer companies in order to elbow their way into this quickly growing yet small industry, in order to cash in on its success.

• Production is small. In comparison to the Carlsbergs and Heinekens of this world, craft beers are nothing more than a drop in the ocean. This is why, in a market saturated by big lager brands, it can be harder to find good craft beers in the shops. Craft beer is the little man, who walks alone.

• Commerciality isn’t a priority. Short best-before dates, ridiculous packaging, silly prices – these aren’t the things that concern a true craft producer. All they care about is making the most delicious beer that they can. If they have a vision for a new beer but it may cost the punter £8 for a can due to the organic, locally sourced, hand-picked ingredients and the best-before date is only 3 months long and it’s packaged in a brown paper bag, they will still go for it, because it may be the most delicious thing anyone has ever brewed!

William John Harris & Andrew Birkby, Wild Card Brewery

William John Harris & Andrew Birkby, Wild Card Brewery

• Personality! Craft has now become an expression of the personality of the brewer, not simply a generic and consistent product. It is an art form and a journey of discovery. It is about passion, quality and experimentation, and how the brewer approaches that will come across in a good craft beer.

• While you absolutely can knock it back if you want, there’s more to it than that! The main thing is that nobody tells you how you should drink craft: throw away your ‘chalice’ and put the ice back in the freezer. Should you wish, you can enjoy it in the same way as a good glass of wine; it has the complexity to be thought about and picked apart however you can just enjoy a nice cold beer if you wish. Your tastebuds will thank you either way.

• An accessible tastebud expander: it will alter the way you see beer by opening eyes to the fact that there is so much out there. The first time you sit down to enjoy an 11% smoked stout, you may be somewhat taken aback; but after that, you won’t see beer in the same way.

These are beers to sup and savour, to match with food, to talk about, or simply to sit and enjoy.

There are no rules, no fuss and no limits…

…except for the times there are some rules, loads of fuss and some sorts of limits. Understood?!

The most important thing is that you enjoy it.

Freddy Bulmer
Society Buyer

Browse the latest craft beer arrivals here.

Categories : Miscellaneous


  1. Peter Hicks says:

    Is all craft beer pasteurised?

  2. Clive Stanway says:

    A good question which you have failed to answer in a lot of words. Craft beer is beer,the word craft being meaningless. The word craft can be placed before any product be it sausages,wine,bread, cheese etc. Products such as real ale have been defined by reputable bodies whereas craft beer is merely a marketing term which covers all beer manufactured with varying degrees of skill by large or small organisations.It is then canned or bottled or bagged with or without additives be they solid or gaseous. Just off to get a craft biscuit and a craft chocolate.

  3. Michael MacNeill says:

    Hello Freddie.
    Completely agree that it can’t be precisely defined as there is so much (thankfully) about currently, in so many guises (and disguises, you naughty multi nationals). Dropped into Shotover Brewery in Oxford last week. Their ‘Trinity’ is an excellent extra pale ale. Whilst they have always stuck to producing just four beers, the original owner has now sold on and the new guys have expansion plans for the premises and range. I’ll be popping back next year to check.
    Whilst not a definition, it’s an example of the current ‘craft’ beer movement, the fact that it is ever changing.

  4. Michael MacNeill says:

    Peter. No, some beers are pasteurised, some not, some are filtered, some not. I generally prefer bottle conditioned but not always. It’s beer anarchy.

  5. Damo says:

    Good article Freddy. Clive, you are correct about the word craft but my guess would be you’re an “real” ale drinker with minimal knowledge of the “craft” beer scene. Oops! I’ve just put “real” in front of ale. There are some terrible ales produced and endorsed by CAMRA and the like, so maybe you should seek some of the outstanding craft beers being produced in the UK, that are at this moment being recognised across the world for their quality. I’d also say Freddy did a pretty good job at answering the question!

  6. Stig says:

    Damo, absolutely agree that some Camra endorsed ales can be horrible, but that is often down to publicans not treating ales correctly. Many well known beer writers have recently brought this up. Search for Pete Brown and Matthew Curtis and you’ll find some very interesting articles.
    One question I wanted to ask you though, you seem to differentiate between real ale and craft beer. Do you not think that a real ale can be craft? My local serves real ale from a local brewery that meets all the criteria above, and it’s delicious as well.

    • Damo says:

      Hi Stig, yes agree a lot is down to publicans but i also think Camra and the like need to move with the times a bit. Absolutely, ale can be craft, as craft in it’s definition is well made beer that tends not to be produced on a huge scale. Love a well made ale as much as a craft but i do find there to be too many poor imitations, which is why i tend to drink craft more than ales these days.

      • Tony says:

        Why would it? It is the campaign for real ale, the beers above are NOT real ale. I am sure the craft beers, or fizz beers, could start their own campaign if they wish to do so.

    • Tony says:

      Pete Brown spent his life marketing Stella Artois and other homogenous products so for me he is just another chancer. Sure he is funny, jolly, he can spell, but then he was a PR man, that is his thing.

  7. Martin says:

    Whilst visiting a brewery. A brewery that made a particular well known real ale I really liked. I observed a delivery of many different packaged ingredients used to make that Craft beer.. Craft ale?Real ale? Totally meaningless terms. We need to know a lot more about the methods & ingredients before touching the stuff.

    • AP says:

      “Real ale? Totally meaningless term”


      Real ale is a specific term which is clearly defined, well understood, and enforceable.

      Real ale has undergone secondary fermentation (either in a cask or a bottle) much like any decent wine. Secondary fermentation is no guarantee of quality – especially if a landlord does not know how to keep beer – but real ale has a particular meaning.

      Sell pasteurised beer as real ale and you may find yourself have a visit from the local trading standards officer.

      Craft beer is very much a humpty-dumpty term.

  8. Hugh says:

    Craft? Real?- just words, beer is beer is beer, do not get confused by a name, judge a beer by its appearance and flavour not all craft/real beers are great neither are all large brewery beers rubbish,get a grip and consider if your purchase is giving you value for money.
    Anyone like to define unreal ale?

    • Tony says:

      Yes, it is beer with added gas, designed to prolong its life. Shelf life. Real ale is a beer that will undergo a second fermentation. Both types can be good and bad but they are different. Like Champagne and

  9. Tony says:

    I would rather the Wine Society not get onto turf it does not fully understand and start disparaging an almost uniquely British product such as real ale. the term Craft beer means nothing. Real ale is beer that has undergone a secondary fermentation generally in cask, sometimes in bottle. Sometimes it is excellent but it can also be bland or even bad without sufficient care. Why would Camra change? It is after all the campaign for real ale! Not the campaign for beer with added gas. The new generation of brewery’s using gas are often producers of both beer styles, real and “fizz”, that is with added CO2, some might be good, but many are charlatans cashing in on trends. My guess is that the Brewers dedicating just to fizz will be a passing fashion, if the society insists on getting into beer at least go for producers with the balls to offer real ale as well as the long life fizzy gear.

  10. Clive Stanway says:

    Just to say that I am fond of real ale. I am also fond of many other drinks including some lagers,wine of course and whisky.I have also consumed some drinks labelled craft beer which have been good. I just have no idea what craft beer is and my view is that it is merely a marketing term.That is why I quoted real ale as an example of something which has been defined and in a few words.AP is on the right track.How long before we have a craft wine movement.

  11. Peter H says:

    Craft beer is an industry term and generally meaningless, unlike the term ‘Real Ale’ which is clearly defined (in some replies here, and also elsewhere).
    Real Ale is not Craft Beer (reference CAMRA AGM & Conference, this very weekend In Bournemouth), which has just confirmed exactly that statement. I have to say that I am rather concerned that this matter is covered here – The Wine Society should not really be involved. I imagine that CAMRA would not be interested in joining a debate on the subject (say) of the importance of terroir to wine, or biodynamic production of wine; neither would you expect them to be.

  12. simon harrison says:

    For taste and quality I rate about 1 in 10 so -called craft beers, of those I have tried. Main characteristiics are a confused blend of new and old world hops,a vague fruitiness and a nasty bitter undertaste.Not a great combination! Even brewers such as Adnams are in on the act,, and complaining of the increased cost of ‘foreign’ hops .Buy British hops, keep prices down and devote your time to products you understand!

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