Category Archives: beer terminology

The Origins of “Craft”

One of the hot topics of beer blogger and beer blog commentator conversation of late has been the origin of the term “craft beer.” On more than one occasion it has been suggested that this is purely a North American term — which will come as a complete surprise to all the Italian, Danish, Japanese, etc. breweries which employ it regularly — and it has also been described as a marketing term invented by Americans.

Thus, it was with great interest that this morning I came across the following lines from Michael Jackson’s The World Guide to Beer, first edition, circa 1977:

A weighty heritage…in the Region du Nord [of France] craft-brewing survives, and there are one or two superb top-fermented specialty beers.

There you have it, craft used in direct association with brewing by a British writer referring to a European country, in the book that served as introduction to the world’s greatest beers for an entire generation of consumers, yours truly included.

I hope that settles that.

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Again with the Black Whatever

Yesterday on Facebook, I posted a tongue-in-cheek link noting the new “black kölsch” just released from the St. Arnold Brewing Company of Texas, and saying that somewhere Ron “Shut Up About Barclay Perkins” Pattinson was popping a blood vessel. (Just joking, Ron. I sincerely hope you weren’t.)

Turn out, it wasn’t Ron who threw a wobbler, but Velky Al. And I’ve got to add, with good reason. Al does note that there is a convention governing what may be called a kölsch, and that even though the U.S. is not bound by said convention, it is, like those governing Champagne and Bordeaux, a matter of respect to do so. More broadly, he duly observes that there is nothing in the convention about a beer being black.

Without getting bent out of shape about it — it is Friday, after all — I must agree wholeheartedly with not just Al’s words, but also what I infer is the sentiment behind them, specifically this obsession with defining new styles and “innovations,” even is such things involve only the addition of a bit of black malt. As Jon Stewart might say, “Brewers, come over and meet me at camera three.”

Listen, I understand that you want to make your beers stand out and that, in the wake of the “black IPA” juggernaut that is sweeping the land, using the word “black” in front of pretty much any traditionally blonde or amber style is one way to do it. But in so doing you are forgetting that the vast majority of the beer drinking populace doesn’t yet know all of the basic beer styles, much less the 100+ offshoots recognized by the Association of Brewers today. Thus, creating more styles, especially faux styles like “black kölsch,” makes matters more confusing for the beer buying public. In short, you’re not clarifying, you’re confounding!

I like new beers. I like weird beers. I like challenging beers. What I don’t like is the seemingly irrepressible need of some, perhaps most craft brewers to create a new beer “style” with every release.

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Is Barking Squirrel Stealth Craft?

I am sitting at my desk with a can of Barking Squirrel Lager in front of me. It was sent over by the brewer, an organization known as Hop City Brewing, which is a craft-esque brewery set up in Ontario by Moosehead Brewing. The label calls it “Craft with Attitude,” and then goes on to speak of the “subtle hop aroma and flavour of our freshly brewed amber nectar.”

All of which sounds good, but is it?

The beer pours orange-ish amber with a light collar of white foam. On the nose, rather than “subtle hop,” I get the aroma of Moosehead Lager, or something similar to Moosehead Lager, accented by a hint of caramel. The body begins sweetly, moving to a still sweet and somewhat cereally middle before a slightly less sweet and faintly bitter finish. Again according to the label, there should be “roasty toasty caramel malts.” Caramel, I get, maybe even toasty, but roasty? Not so much. Complexity? ‘Fraid not.

When I opened this beer, I was seriously thirsty after a long and difficult day. If there were any time that a chilled can of good lager should shine, this was it. It didn’t.

But I’m less concerned about the lack of character of this beer than I am about the branding. Nowhere on this package is there any indication that this is a Moosehead subsidiary, and I suppose that since it is a stand alone brewery, one which to my knowledge is not making Moosehead brands, neither need there be. But it is positioned as a craft beer, and leaving aside for the moment the on-going debate about what “craft” actually means, for most people, I think, a “craft” beer that boasts the name “Hop City” and speaks on its label of “hop aroma” should have some significant, or at least discernable, hop character. And in my opinion, this ber does not.

Even more to the point, and referencing my earlier comment about it smelling like something Moosehead Lager-like, I would guess from its aroma alone that this is not an all-malt beer, but rather one which makes use of the exploitation of adjuncts for commercial purposes. And that is certainly not something people reasonably expect of craft beer. So is it craft, stealth craft, or something else? At this point, I’m not so sure.

 

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Setting the Cause of Beer Knowledge Back Two Decades…

Just look at what Young Dredge found adorning the shelves of Tesco, Britain’s largest retailer. (Not beer retailer, mind you, but retailer, period.) “Fuller Flavoured Lagers” like Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and Innis & Gunn.

Imagine if they were promoting the arrival of “Big Bodied Red Wines” like Cakebread Cellars Reserve Chardonnay and Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc! Someone would be fired, I would think, or at least severely reprimanded.

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Not Musings, But Keen Insight

Out of the Czech Republic, the Pivní Filosof this morning presents his “musings” on beer style, which is actually keen insight and should be mandatory reading for all professional brewers and most serious beer aficionados. Go ahead, it’s right over here, read it.

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Belgian-Based Head-Shaking

This article in the Washington Post is a week old now, so some of you may have already seen it, particularly since it is not without its controversial aspects. But Joe just brought it to my attention, and so I’m bringing it to yours.

Or, rather, I’m bringing one line of it to your attention, from paragraph two and with emphasis added by yours truly:

The syrupy liquid was 10 percent alcohol and combined the dried-fruit flavors of a quadrupel, a traditional Belgian abbey ale, with the roasted-coffee notes common in American stouts.

No! No! No! There is nothing traditional about a so-called quadrupel, unless your definition of tradition stretches all the way back to 1991. And for that matter, there’s little “Belgian” about a beer invented in the Netherlands, which is where Koningshoeven/La Trappe created said beer in the aforementioned year of 1991.

This, as I have noted before, really gets on my wick. Because while it’s one thing to debate the vagaries of styles such as double IPAs and Imperial pilsners, it’s quite another to take a beer name coined two decades ago, invent a style out of it and then apply that style retroactively to beers that have been around for decades prior.

So stop it, please. Just…stop…it.

 

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CAMRA Dictionary of Beer Entry #2

More from Brian Glover’s CAMRA Dictionary of Beer, published in 1985:

Liefmans: Belgian brewery (surprisingly owned by Vaux of Sunderland)…

Of course, it wasn’t long after that Vaux ceased to be involved with brewing at all, becoming instead Swallow Inns and Restaurants, and Liefmans is today owned by Duvel. But I never new that the major regional British brewer once had holdings in Belgium.

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Goings On Across the Pond

If you’re not a regular reader of some of the best British beer blogs – and you SHOULD be, for the information and entertainment value of writers like Pete Brown, Mark “Young” Dredge and Martyn Cornell – you might not be aware of the controversy brewing in the UK. Over, of all things, the notion of “craft beer.”

CAMRA, that champion of cask-conditioned, so-called “Real” ale – I’ve always despised that term and its implication that non-cask-conditioned ale (and all lager) is somehow not “real” – has taken craft beer to task as, wait for it, something that is bad! Yes, you read that right, what we in North America (and Italy and Denmark and Japan and Brazil and most other beer markets around the globe) take as something wonderful and worthy of promotion, CAMRA apparently views as a dire threat to its convictions, prosperity and, indeed, very existence.

The source of the above contention is better explained by Martyn and Pete than I could possible do here, so why not pay one or both of those gents a visit and read up on it? I’ll wait here.

There, got it? CAMRA, which everyone should know arose in response to the rise of execrable keg beers like Watney’s Red Barrel is, forty years on, still toeing the party line, even in face of such wonderful developments as the globalization of craft beer and the emergence of a new breed of breweries in the UK, some of which, yes, produce characterful and tasty keg or filtered bottled beer in place of or in addition to cask versions of same.

As someone who visits the United Kingdom frequently – I’m on my way back in a couple of months, in fact – I am as big a fan as anyone of well-kept cask-conditioned ale. It’s pretty much all I drink when I’m over there. But come on, CAMRA, it’s no longer the be-all and end-all! There is a lot of good bottled and kegged beer available in London and beyond today, much of it far better than some of the crap cask ale I’ve been served during my visits. No one is suggesting you change the organization’s name or completely rewrite your mandate, but sticking to method of dispense as the sole defining factor of your existence is myopic at best and sheer lunacy at worst.

Two trips ago in London, Jay Brooks and I went on a tear of tasting during which every single cask-conditioned brew we tasted for about ten or more in a row was badly affected by diacetyl. I’m talking serious butter bombs! After which a glass of clean, good quality, keg-dispensed pilsner would have gone down a treat. And CAMRA, that occurred at your flagship event, the Great British Beer Festival!

Bottom line, for this CAMRA member: It’s what is in my glass that counts, not how it got there.

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CAMRA Dictionary of Beer Entry #1

I’ve been of late flipping through my 1985 edition of Brian Glover’s CAMRA Dictionary of Beer, occasionally with some amusement, but mostly with a fair dose of nostalgia. Witness, for example, the following (emphasis my own):

High Gravity Brewing: A modern development aimed at economising on brewery plant and material handling costs. Very strong beer is brewed and this is then watered down to the desired gravity when it is put into casks. Many brewers have experimented with this idea but have often been disappointed with the flavour of the resulting beer. Not at present in widespread use.

If only, eh? Check back in the days to come for more such entries.

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The Problem with “Drinkability”

You’ve probably heard it from some brewery, be it large or small. “Our beer,” they’ll say, “is very drinkable,” as if that were a unique feature. Like the ability of a liquid to slide across the tongue and down into one’s gullet into the belly is something to crow about.

Well, you know what has the highest degree of “drinkability”? Water! Is that something we want to hold up as the gold standard for beer? Methinks not.

Craft brewers, it’s time to leave “drinkable” to the big boys, the breweries that really do aspire to have water-like qualities in their beer. If your beers are all about flavour and body and character, why compare them to water? Let’s talk enjoyability instead! Or, if you want something that implies the consumption of a significant amount coupled with the enjoyment factor, quaffability. Along those same lines, “sessionability” is another option. Or just get out your thesauruses; I’m sure there are many more terms waiting therein.

But enough about “drinkability,” okay? And the same goes for “easy drinking.”

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