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Friday, November 01, 2013

Why "Craft" is a Meaningless Term

I got an email this morning that caught my interest. Since my flight has been delayed several hours, I find myself with the time to blog about it. The email comes from the consumer research firm Canadean, and in it they proudly trumpet a new definition for "craft beer."  Since they're located in the UK, Canadean notes that "Whilst [the Brewers Association] definition has worked well [in the US], transferring it to other markets can prove problematic."  Indeed. And so this was the solution:
Canadean presents a definition of “craft” beer as a segment primarily made up of Premium and Superpremium priced speciality beers – excluding flavoured beers, super-strength lagers and Stout. This would include products made by microbreweries, but would also encompass products like the Belgian Abbey &; Trappiste Beers; the French Biers de Grade; Premium English Ales; Wheat Beers; and Seasonal Beers.
You see the problems, right?  What do these terms mean: "premium," "superpremium," and "super-strength?"  I sent an email back to Ida Kloster,  who got back to me with these clarifications. 
We define the categories by looking at the prices of beers in supermarkets and/or liquor stores.  We index the price of the leading brand as 100 and then index the price of all other brands relative to that brand.  Premium is defined as being 110 to 149 and superpremium as 150+. We don’t exclude all superstrength beers – and trappist beers are definitely included.  However we exclude brands like Tennents Super and Carlsberg Special Brew, as well as malt liquor in the States. 
This is less the opening of a can of worms than the flinging them around the parlor.  I think the thing that amuses me the most about their effort is the use of strength as a metric. This is a telling cultural artifact, one that highlights the uselessness (particularly in an international context) of trying to define "craft."  Poor Ida even admitted as much: 
The definition is subjective (and has to be) as the whole concept of craft is in the mind of the consumer, and it is impossible to come up with a rigid definition that makes sense.
I couldn't agree more.

(Note: I typed this on an iPhone, so excuse my errors.)


  1. I got this one and was going to ask but thought it too pointless when I got to superpremium. Ask her who paid her to send the email. I start with that question now when I do bother.

  2. Price and strength are used as guidelines? Ye gods. This is nonsense, makes even less sense than the BA definition.

  3. I was going to write about this, but I can't be arsed really, isn't it about time we ALL killed "craft beer"? And i mean people on both sides of the counter. Shouldn't "independent", "small" (without getting into the argument of what small is) and maybe "local" be enough? Really, when a brand incubator can commission a beer for their brand and call it craft, when a multinational can call a (really good) beer "craft", what's the point with insisting anymore?

  4. So any thoughts on this, then?

    Sorry, I couldn't resist.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. So basically they're saying we need to define a term so they can dupe customers into giving them more money?

  7. But craft is not a meaningless term, it just means its produced with an emphasis on quality.

  8. I find this ever-present discussion about “craft beer” very analogous to another constant topic of non-work-related discussion in my place of employment: “indie rock”. The problem is that categories and naming conventions is these cases usually involve hazy borders and a multitude of variables. Craft beer’s variables may include [quality] and [brewery size], among others; indie rock’s variables may include [sound…?! – with other subcategories] and [label size], among others. Where on the scale of each variable does each element sit, and how much weight does each variable get? Then, where does the net result sit in relation to this ill-defined borderland?

    In fact, I imagine one could come up with a lot of similar categorization/naming arguments being thrown around in this way. Really, you could extend this questionability out to almost any categorization: “Jazz”, “Mediterranean food”, “computer”, etc.

    In the end, one thing that my co-workers and I can agree on is that categorizations such as these are very sloppy and frustratingly imperfect, but that they are useful. If somebody asks me what kind of music I listen to or what kind of beer I like to drink, the idea simply saying “indie rock” or “craft beer” just makes me want to shudder. But, in quickly and offhandedly referring to a style of beer or music in a conversation…

    “…Pop fans will cheer, but the indie rock crowd will be probably be disappointed with so-and-so’s new album…”

    “…The craft beer side of the industry has seen much stronger growth in the last couple of years…”

    …seems pretty useful for giving a quick description of what you’re generally talking about. Let’s say I’m in the middle of telling a story and I mention a band that someone asks me about. Quickly I might say “they’re kind of like noisy indie rock”, which is more specific than “rock band” but less specific than spelling out “early-nineties-shoegaze-influenced rock with Arcade Fire leanings”.

    "Craft Beer": not perfect but can be quite useful in the right circumstances.