If some viewed microbrew as an outmoded label, few agreed on the proper replacement term. Beer writers, brewers, retailers and the media have spent the better part of two decades arguing over the right label, without agreement. Indie brewers? Craft brewers? Artisanal brewers? Micro brewers?
Craft beer has been the most stable selection. It’s a utility player reasonably capable of conveying some distinctions between the products of the macro and micro teams. Many in the media and beer industry, including the Brewers Association, have adopted and promoted the term. And the craft beer label has spread far beyond our national borders, with new breweries from Brazil to Japan proudly adopting it.
I know in my usage, craft beer is often a default phrase that broadly conveys the hazy contours of the subject I’m trying to discuss, usually meaning anything but macro-produced lager. The problem is that craft beer is a prissy, lazy, and often misleading phrase. The word craft evokes a certain aesthetic—small, quality and traditional—as we’re often told. In truth, however, it’s no guarantee of size or heritage and certainly not of quality. Never has been, never will be.
Craft has become a meaningless phrase to which we assign arbitrary, shifting and often no longer relevant characteristics that suit those manipulating perceived points of distinction. The absurdity of its continued use is evident as macro lager sales continue to flag at historic rates, signaling the end of the war over beer’s flavor. While name changes are challenging, it’s time for craft, micro and artisanal brewers to graciously accept macro surrender on this issue and proudly accept a growing truth: craft beer is just beer.
Andy Crouch, “Names and Labels”, Beer Advocate (March 2016), 22.