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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Don't Call It "Good" Beer, Either

I know the horse is well and truly dead, but I have a few more licks to get in. The subject is this amorphous category we sometimes call "craft" beer even though it's an inadequate and misleading term. What we really care about is "good," but as Tim Webb writes in the September print edition of BeerAdvocate (perhaps the best mag available), this is no improvement:
"The problem is the British fixation, enshrined in CAMRA's policy, on the notion that for a beer to be 'good,' it must contain live yeast."
He adds Reinheitsgebot and the Brewers Association's definition of craft brewery as other definitions of "good." Indeed, we have some fairly well established, idiosyncratic definitions of what it means to be good, don't we? To Webb's three I've add a few more:
  • Small, independent (Brewers Association)
  • Hoppy, strong (American beer geeks)
  • Alive and naturally carbonated (CAMRA)
  • Made with traditional ingredients (Reinheitsgebot)
  • Perfectly consistent and fresh (macros)
  • Cold and "refreshing" (macro drinkers)
  • Popular (all breweries)
Nowhere to be found in this list is a satisfying definition (never mind a universal one) of what good beer is. Webb concludes his article with the obvious: "The closer you come to defining good beer by a technical specification, the further away you move from being able to appreciate it."



  1. Webb is exactly wrong on this. Just as I don't need someone telling me that "craft" will suffice, I don't need someone telling me what makes for good. No one can tell you what is good. Webb further assumes that a technical spec ought to be able to measure it but that is confusing production with consumption.

    Only the drinker can tell for sure. Opposition to the concept that the drinker can make his or her own mind up is to be expected and does lay out the problem with the beer market for all to observe: we the drinkers are only here to follow what we are told.

  2. Alan, unless language has lost all meaning to me (not implausible), we're all on the same page here.

  3. Well, not to be disagreeable, but I am not in agreement with the idea that "good" is not an improvement over "craft". However, I do not have access to Webb's article. So can't tell if he is admitting the subjective authority of "good" is a vast improvement over the false objectivity of "real" or Reinheitsgebot or any other standard.

  4. "Good" is an opinion: "That Rainier in the green bottle is good."

    "Craft" at least has the advantage of not being an opinion: "That Rainer in the green bottle is craft."

    However, neither term works as a descriptor of the beer we enjoy.

    To the drawing board...

  5. What's being missed is the distinction between what the drinker needs and what an organisation needs.

    You, Alan and I are perfectly happy with good. We can blog about good. We know where we stand and if people disagree with what we say good is, then fair enough: we just delete their comments. One has a reputation to uphold and all that.

    Non-humans don't have the luxury of "good". Non-humans like CAMRA, the BA, or our own little crew at Beoir. If they want any semblance of coherence and logevity beyond the participation of individuals they need something objective to sell on their stalls. Good won't cut it.

    So they go for "where, systematically, goodness is most statistically likely to be found, fully recognising that there are exceptions and striving to help fix them".

    The finest example is CAMRA's Good Beer Guide. It's not a directory of everywhere that sells Real Ale; it's the places where CAMRA, subjectively, thinks you can go to get Real Ale, And It Will Most Likely Be Good There.

  6. At this point, I believe the beer genie is out of the bottle. There is probably not a single term that will clearly and systematically describe the "good" "craft" beer that is currently available.

    The least objectionable choice to me is "craft". Not in the hand crafted sense of the world but rather made with quality in mind. Like wood craft. The word also has the edge in that it is already in use. Trying to push a new word onto people does not look like an easy proposition.

  7. "...Not in the hand crafted sense of the world but rather made with quality in mind..."

    Could you imagine the day that all craft brewers actually have that idea as a principle that is presented in their production? Until then, I will stick with my old friend, the good, and let the bureaucrats of CAMRA and the branders of craft do what they have to.