I’m not entirely sure what the definition of Craft Beer actually is but it looks like might be with us for a while so I guess I should find out. For those of you who haven’t yet partaken it’s a bit like lager but with taste and texture.
Not surprisingly, the concept is said to have started in the United States when, presumably, a large enough slug of the adult population rebelled against having to pretend that they actually enjoyed drinking Bud light. Apparently it is written into their constitution. But like most things supposedly invented across the pond, we need to separate the myth from the truth.
In reality there have been Craft Beers in Europe for centuries but there were no sharp suited marketing men around to tell them what to call it. The common characteristics of Craft Beers, that differentiate them from more commercial Lagers are taste, colour, texture and strength….and scale. Small is beautiful, big is ugly……successful, profitable, quaffable, but ugly.
Since real beer should only be made from four ingredients; barley, water, hops and yeast, the art in creating a genuine, truly innovative craft beer is in the selection of those raw materials and the timing and temperature of the fermentation and maturation. These crafty brewers can create fruity flavoured beers with refreshing effervescent mouth feel, without the addition of flavourings.
There are, of course, a few cheats who throw in the odd Kiwi or Gooseberry or Vanilla Pod here and there but hey, it tastes good. The Belgians have been brewing beer with Cherries and Raspberries for centuries and nobody would dare to accuse them of creating Alcopops.
These new Craft Lager brands have created a whole new drinking experience, similar to the recent cask ale explosion, but without requiring the drinker to sport a beard, wear sandals and support Greenpeace. The other obvious similarity to cask ale lies within their brand names and whilst they are not quite as radical and rude as Cask counterparts, beers such as Arrogant Bastard, Hopzilla and Puppy’s Breath are certainly capturing the imagination and generating trial.
Whilst widely available in the States, (have a look at www.ratebeer.com ) we have to search them out over here. Brew Dog, the Scots entrepreneurial anarchists are opening bars and stores like most of us open envelopes and there are communities in Bristol, Camden, Bath, Shoreditch and Covent Garden where, justifiably, it has been deemed a capital offence to be seen drinking Stella.
It should also be noted that just because some of the national brewers produce lagers on an industrial scale, this does not necessarily mean that they compromise on ingredients, fermentation, maturation and quality. They produce quality products, consistently, on a scale that makes it affordable for some of those pubs not fortunate enough to be able to stock a Craft Beer to compete. Craft Beers are likely to cost more due to their differentiated raw materials and scale of production but it’s a price worth paying.
For me, the greatest attraction to the Craft craze is that this is mainly a draught beer offer that has not yet found prominence in supermarkets so anything that improves the experience and makes the pub an interesting place to be, has to be a crafty move in the right direction.