What Is Craftbeer?

Currently, the term craft beer is much discussed. Actually, what is Craftbeer or what it is not. But first of all, the background of Craftbeer:

Once Upon a Time in America

Craftbeer has its origins in the US, where people in the 70s were tired of the monotony of Bud, Coors and Miller and started brewing their own beer. Hobby brewers and beer enthusiasts who have rebelled against the monotony of taste of the large corporations and have discovered the brewing kettle for themselves. From some hobby breweries or better Microbreweries emerged then commercial enterprises of some considerable size. An indication that the time was right for something new. It took over 30 years and the process is not finished yet. Of course, the big brewers have now shopped and took over some of these breweries – but as a result, there are more breweries in the US today resulting in a remarkable variety of beers.

In Europe, especially in Germany, there was and still is a trend towards monotony. At least it seems that way with the ever more similar TV beers paired to a growth strategy based on takeover of competitors. But unlike in the US, there are a lot of small breweries in Germany who are just waiting for a chance to compete against the big ones. Market shares will not shift earthquake-like. But, creative and character beers are niche products and deserve a chance to exist. And as an integral part of this craft beer idea it is important to raise awareness of quality and diversity.

It’s all about showing what beer can do!

Craftbeer development in the US continues to set milestones

At the beginning of the 20th century, there were around 1,700 breweries in the United States. In 1983, only six major corporations produced the beer for the US market – mostly light, lightly hopped lager beer. At the same time, a home brewing scene has been developing for over 30 years with artisan beers – the Craftbeer, to stir up the beer market. That succeeded impressively.

The number has increased from eight breweries in 1980 to over 1,600 in 2010. In 2011, the market share of Craftbeer in the United States was 9.1 percent – with a further upward trend. In Germany the situation is a little different Werner Gloßner, Managing Director of the Private Breweries of Bavaria, the ideal bearer of the BrauBeviale: “The name Craftbeer does not fit well with us. We have always had small and medium-sized breweries brewing craft beers.”

However, Gloßner very much welcomes the trend of moving towards characterful beers and specialties: “Old traditional varieties like a Märzen or a Zwickl get a more independent taste again, and we always win over new beer lovers.” Beer sommelier world champion Oliver Wesseloh also assesses the situation in his home country: “We are on a very good way. More and more restaurateurs and retailers are discovering the trend of creative beer culture.”

Movement instead of product?

In my opinion, Craftbeer is actually more than just a product or a product genre, it is also an idea or a kind of movement. At the beginning of a movement is an idea. The idea might not only be created in one mind, but in different minds in parallel. However, some people are fascinated by this idea so that they start to act. The result transports the idea to others who support the thought. From a critical mass one speaks of a movement.

A group of people, some with different motivations such as profiling, profit motives or pure idealism, who work in different ways to implement this idea, develops a common goal.

The idea behind Craftbeer is simple:

Beer variety instead of monotony. Variety of tastes, diversity of varieties, manufacturer’s variety.

Brand Craft Beer

A well-known company from Northern Germany recently tried unsuccessfully to have the term Craftbeer protected as a word mark. A compliment to the officials of the German Patent and Trademark Office (GPTO), who have rejected this request. Craftbeer is not protectable as a brand in Germany. And that’s the right thing to do!

What should one think of this companies?

Firstly, let’s say positive: The company invests in the area and is very active in the matter of craft beer. But then the praise stops already. Whether those responsible for the failed trademark application sit in marketing, in the legal department or in the management is unclear. The experiment clearly conveys the attitude of this company “We want to protect craft beer for ourselves and use it alone.” This advantage thinking creates mistrust and thus harms the cooperation – and it thus harms the idea of Craftbeer and a common goal.

So what is Craftbeer and who is allowed to brew it?

Here opinions differ widely. The one saying Craftbeer can be brewed only in a non-industrial, in a so-called “artisanal” environment, after all, Craft means “artisanal”. There are even some who say it depends on who brews the beer and where the beer is brewed. But farm size or the grandmother’s size of the brewer are not appropriate criteria for a definition of Craftbeer or Craftbrewers. Whether the beer is mixed in a 20 liter or 2,000 liter container makes it also neither better nor worse.

Also, the approach of using the ownership of the brewing plant as a criterion, as suggested by some, is in my eyes utter nonsense. Whether the boiler in which the beer is brewed now belongs to a bunch of shareholders or a single man or woman is irrelevant and is completely bleak to the consumer who expects certain quality standards and is in a tasting mood!

Recently I read “hand crafted beer” on a bottle from Holland. It reminded me that Craftbeer is about the HOW and not the WHERE or WHO. And the HOW makes all the difference. In contrast to the industrial process where the individual executes only fragments of the brewing process, Craftbeer means that the brewer completely accompanies the brewing process from the selection of the recipe and the choice of raw materials to the bottling of the beer. No division of the brewing process, no production manager or shift leader. A man or woman brews “with his own hand”. Therefore I believe “Manufacture Beer” would actually be a suitable German term for this craft.

After this definition, it does not matter if the brew kettle belongs to the brewer or not. And according to this definition, a corporation can now produce a craftbeer as well. Just as a group can create a completely handmade vehicle such as a Maybach, even if it may just be an image project. What matters is the way it is done. It’s about the craftsmanship of the brewer, the special selection of ingredients and the love of beer. In my opinion, these are the main ingredients for a great craft beer.

What is your opinion on that matter? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comment box below with the community – cheers.

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