THE BEER BEAT: “Craft,” “quality” and other beer semantics — but independence genuinely matters to me.


Believe it or not, at one time not so long ago the feds prohibited listing the alcohol content on a bottle or can of beer.

Allegedly this owed to a post-Prohibition fear that posted strengths would lead to competition based on potency alone, although at the very same time, liquors producers were obliged to do the very opposite and clearly indicate the proof.

Whatever the origin, this rule was successfully appealed and disappeared by the mid-1990s. For the most part, during the past 25 years there has been widespread acceptance that knowing the alcohol content is a crucial piece of consumer information, enabling a drinker to understand exactly what he or she is getting into — assuming the knowledge is desired, and of course for some, it isn’t.

One conclusion of Bryan Roth’s piece on the beer semantics of craft and quality is that relatively few beer consumers as yet care very much about the ownership of the brewery so long as the components denoted by “craft” are present.

In short, whether the brewery is independent or monolithic/corporate just isn’t a consideration because it tells consumers little about “quality” as this concept is applied to the denominator “craft.”

Perhaps, but as with alcohol content those many years ago, beer drinkers like me who actually are interested in knowing the destination of our cash — how much of it stays with an independent producer as opposed to being repatriated to shareholders in Switzerland or Hong Kong — really want to know.

It’s consumer information, every bit as much as alcohol content or hop varieties. Can there be too much consumer information? I don’t think so.

By the way, before I turn it over to Roth, there’s this essay for anyone in need of a refresher course as to why these considerations matter:

The BS Arguments of Craft Beer Sell-Outs: How Brewery Buyouts Hurt Craft Beer, by Jim Vorel (Paste)

Let me tell you who I care about, in the world of beer: I care about the craft beer industry as a whole. I care about selection and availability of great craft beer, and at night I dream of a world where great beer from independent breweries can be accessed just about anywhere.

That dream is currently under attack, primarily by so-called “Big Beer,” but not entirely. For all of the wrangling and shady dealing that AB-InBev and MillerCoors are conducting in the American beer market, equally disturbing is the propensity of beer geeks and even food & drink publications to rationalize and apologize for the buyouts and practices that are currently driving craft beer into the most dangerous situation it’s faced in more than a decade. In some cases, would-be allies are willingly parroting back the exact marketing copy that AB-InBev would love to place in their mouths. Other times, beer drinkers are simply accepting the bullshit reassurances of just-purchased breweries who have huge monetary incentives to be dishonest.

But don’t take our word for it. We’re not here to simply rant and rave—we’re here to give you specific examples of BS rationalizations you’ll see in the wake of every major brewery buyout. We’re here to point out the logical chasms and blatant hypocrisy that proliferate in the public response to buyouts. And we’re here to point out exactly why these buyouts are so capable of devastating the craft brewing industry … 

As usual, Roth’s work is outstanding and thought-provoking. It certainly provokes my thoughts, primarily because drinking without thinking hasn’t ever held much interest for me.

Beer’s War of Wordplay — The Semantics of “Craft” and “Quality” (at Good Beer Hunting)

 … The constant back-and-forth over objective definitions of what “craft” or “independent” means for beer overlooks the value placed on the terminology pulled from our own dictionaries. Instead of seeing these words as a way to convey particular feelings toward a beer of choice, we’re missing a rather straightforward purpose created over years of marketing by trade organizations and breweries themselves.

As we enter a period where “independent” is set to act as the vernacular de jour for the most in-the-weeds beer lovers, it’s unfortunate that the previous effort surrounding the ideals of “craft” may fall to the wayside. While many words have malleable interpretations, when it comes to sales, the effective message that is relayed to customers through “craft” actually matches up with its intentions: it’s how most of the American public thinks about “quality” …