Many of the [brewing students at UC Davis], it must be said, are intent on the craft sector, however mistakenly regarding the big guys as corporate America, and some of them naively buying into the notion of “industrial beer.” [This] reprehensible term [is] sometimes employed by a thoughtless few in the craft sector to describe the products of the largest brewing companies…. The bigger brewing companies adhere to the very highest quality standards and are just as unlikely to use process aids as are smaller companies.And then one page later, he offers this anecdote cum observation:
I was dismayed to hear a little while back of one chief executive saying that only a tiny proportion of his employees really mattered to him, because they represented the difference between success and failure. It straightaway put me in mind of my old boss, Robin Manners, chief executive of Bass Brewers and grandson of the company’s erstwhile chairman. He said to me one day, “Two things matter to this company, Charlie: One is people, and the other is quality. And if you look after the people, they will ensure the quality.” What a contrast.And yet one page further:
The simple reality is that business decisions, especially in publicly-owned companies, are made on the basis of the bottom line and no consideration of tradition or status quo, unless it satisfies a marketing strategy.And finally:
On November 18, 2008, the acquisition of Anheuser-Busch by InBev … created one of the top five consumer products companies in the world and a company producing around 400 million hectoliters of beer annually, with the next biggest competitor, SAB-Miller, standing at 210 million hectoliters.Teasing apart the differences between, say a 5,000 barrel craft brewery and a 50-million barrel multinational corporate brewing company has been sabotaged by history and Bamforth, a Briton (see p. 177, footnote 17) is caught in the crossfire. There are a few issues, so lets tease them apart:
1. Corporations vs small business
A corporation is a legal entity and as far as I know, the term doesn't have anything to do with size. "Corporate" is shorthand in the US to mean "large company" (either private or public). There is no way, under any definition, for anyone to conclude that Budweiser InBev (or whatever they call the beast), a "top five consumer products company" is not corporate. It just is. I think what trips Bamford up here is the naked hatred many Americans have for corporate beer. This is an artifact of American consolidation, for which there is no analogue in British brewing. We watched as local breweries were gobbled up by bigger breweries--always resulting in less consumer choice (not to mention ripping the hearts out of drinkers who watched their local breweries dismantled). By contrast, as Bamforth documents, as late as 2000, Bass had just 25% of the British market, and number 2 Whitbread 16%. It was possible to see big breweries succeed in Britain and not associate this with violence done to the product.
Charlie also objects to this belief Americans hold that industrial beer is tainted with nasty ingredients. Let's leave aside the adjuncts. (Rice, Bamforth argues, is chosen for "certain quality attributes" and is actually "more complicated to use" than barley. I personally agree--rice is a natural grain and no less worthy an ingredient than any other. The "attributes" it contributes, however, and the reasons these attributes are prized by industrial breweries, are not uniformly admirable.) I don't have any reason to believe that industrial beer is currently adulterated with additives, nor that it was back in the 70s when nearly all products were (emulsifiers and stabilizers and enhancers and so on). But that's what people believe, and they believe it in part because when massive American conglomerates began consolidating in the 70s and 80s, the beer got blander and more tinny tasting. That's what happens when you're focused purely on the bottom line.
3. Industrial v hand-crafted
I have long looked for an adjective to use to distinguish between that 5,000 barrel brewhouse and the 50-million barrel one, ultimately settling on the value-neutral "industrial." Massive brewing companies can and do produce world-class beers and, as we all know, tiny breweries can and do produce drain cleaner. But, when you're brewing beer in vessels large enough to supply a small town with water for a week, you're working on an industrial scale. Every single brewery I have ever toured has done its damnedest to reduce the "hand" part of the crafted. Grain, kegs, and cases are heavy. Hand-bottling and labeling is extremely slow. To the extent they can streamline things, they do. Industrial breweries have just done this on a very large scale. Often, it allows them to hire skilled workers who get union wages. (When Henry's closed, 200 union jobs were lost.) So use "big" and "small" or "industrial" and "craft," or nomenclature of your invention. But at least recognize that brewing is largely an industrial endeavor.