Why Choose Craft Beer?
We live in a world where we are given choice. You don’t need to pick one side or another. You don’t need to be rich to have nice things. We don’t need to settle for the mundane, mediocre and average either. Craft beer is giving us more tastes, styles and flavours than ever before. Why would any beer drinker not go craft?
What is Craft Beer? (Without the jargon)
According to The Oxford English Dictionary ‘craft’ is:
“An activity involving skill in making things by hand.”. Being more specific “Denoting or relating to food or drink made in a traditional or non-mechanised way by an individual or a small company.” Basically, this rules out the beers made by the huge corporations. They use machines to create the same, standardised taste.
Craft beer, is it just a marketing ploy or is there a meaning behind the slogan?
Where did it come from? What’s the difference between ‘craft beer’ & ‘beer’? Will it fade away like every other fad? Probably not.
It might seem like it came from nowhere to suddenly being inescapable. We were once, Great Britain, great at brewing beers, we mastered the traditional ales. Then, like a lot of our old school trades, the grafters stopped. The makers were replaced by machines and cheap ingredients, used to cut costs and make on-mass. For years, we accepted this. Pubs were being closed down, the drinking culture changed. It was the time of binge drinking, cheap juice with high percentages.
Fast forward a decade or two where people like the finer things in life. Our tastes have developed. We used to be a nation known for bland food, we now not only enjoy different cultures and cuisines, we seek them out and we are happy to pay more for something different and unique. The internet has allowed cultures to easily collaborate, giving twists on traditions whilst the class system is becoming less relevant which helps accessibility.
Gordon Brown deserves some credit for the resurgence in brewing. When the free-house pubs were on their knees and the chains were taking over, we were losing unique character in the places we could enjoy a pint so he introduced a tax break for small brewers back in 2002. Change isn’t instant but this helped start a movement which was accelerated by American brewers.
One of our favourite brewers, Thornbridge began in ’05. Their award winning beers inspired a generation of brewers. Martin Dickie left Thornbridge to start BrewDog, arguably the most successful craft beer brewers in the UK. However, are you still craft when you are the size of BrewDog? It’s a touchy subject which has be argued by many.
Brewers have become the bakers of the drinking world. A few years ago you’d happily settle for a Waburtons loaf, now you’ll go to your artisan baker for a £4 unsliced and then to the coffee shop next door where the barista will carefully use foam to make a shape in your latte for the cost of a jar of coffee. We are becoming a quality over quantity culture and we don’t think twice about paying over a fiver for a decent pint instead of £3 for a crappy lager.
With new flavours, the ale is no longer a drink for old men. We can now think of beer like wine, it’s a drink to taste and enjoy, every pint has its individuality, requires care from both the brewer and the bar man, pumping the ale with care like the chef who plates food artistically. It’s the handmade skills that the dictionary talks about that makes craft beer different.
Whether you go to Starbucks on Ecclesall Road, Manchester or New York, your coffee is going to taste pretty much the same, which, sometimes, familiarity is the wise option but YOLO. In Sheffield we’ve got some great coffee shops, they might all sell the same coffees but they do it their way and this is exactly the same theory with craft beers. Not only is an American Pale from one brewery different to another brewery, every batch can vary slightly. Like wine, some age better whilst others are like a loaf, at its best when its fresh.
Cask and Keg
Cask beers are the beers your grandad drank, flat, warm, topless and often the reason ‘real ale’ gets a bad rep. The brewer only does half the job, the beer isn’t finished until it hits the glass. If the pub haven’t taken care of the cask and the barman doesn’t know how to pull (the pint) then it isn’t going to be an enjoyable experience for the drinker.
Luckily the craft brewers have continued the traditions of cask beers and the warm, flat beers are no longer uninspiring. They’ve used their creativity to bring them to life but, if you are unfortunate to have a bad pint, don’t dismiss it, you might have just been unlucky with the batch or the bar man.
Keg beer is the most common, these include your typical lager as well many ales. They are served cool, with a fizz and don’t require the same barman skills as the cask beer.
If you want something independent, and ‘not on the high-street’ then go craft, there’s something for everybody, even those not into beer! When you consider the locally sourced, high-quality ingredients, handmade and skilled trade, it’s worth paying that little bit extra for.