Craft Beer Defined
This evening, when I heard on the 6 o’clock news that the term, “craft beer”, had been defined and included in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, I was very excited. Finally, I would have a conclusive answer for when I am inevitably asked the question, “What is craft beer?” This is always one of the first questions posed to me in interviews. It always catches me off guard, for some reason, causing me to mumble some lame-ass definition that makes me sound like I have no clue as to what I am talking about. This likely makes the interviewer think they should fire their assistants for recommending me to be interviewed.
My inability to nail down the perfect definition might be because there was no real consensus as to what constitutes a craft beer. The term was created mostly as a marketing ploy. You ask 10 different beer aficionados to define craft beer and you will get 10 different, and often conflicting, answers. But that was before Merriam-Webster got involved.
You can imagine my excitement, as I quickly went to their online dictionary and typed in “craft beer”. Merriam-Webster has been defining the English language since the 1800s, so surely they would know how to nail down, precisely and succinctly, the definition that has eluded all of us beer geeks for the past 15 years, or so. Finally, there would be no argument or debate as to what constitutes a craft beer. I was prepared to be enlightened.
So here it is, according to Merriam-Webster: craft beer (noun) – a specialty beer produced in limited quantities.
Well, that sure clears things up, doesn’t it? No longer will I have to struggle to sound learned and intelligent when asked to define craft beer. I can just sit back, with an all-knowing smirk, and spout forth the definition endorsed by those who define the English language, making myself look every inch the expert my interviewer expects me to be.
Seriously, I’m even more confused and have more questions than ever. What defines a “specialty beer”? What defines “limited quantities”? Does that mean my beloved Fat Tug IPA is not a craft beer? Say it ain’t so! Since Fat Tug is regularly produced, can be found virtually everywhere in Vancouver year-round, and is a beer from a recognized style, is it a specialty beer made in limited quantities? Who cares? I like it, so I will drink it until I don’t like it any more, no matter what label gets attached to it or pigeon hole its gets shoved into. I don’t drink Fat Tug because it is called a craft beer. I drink it because I love its flavour.
I think maybe we beer geeks get too carried away with this whole craft beer thing sometimes, especially since no one really knows what the hell craft beer is exactly. Isn’t the point of going out for a beer to enjoy said beer and the company you are with while drinking it? If you like a beer’s taste and it hits the spot for you, does it matter whether it is craft or crap? Hell, if Molson M and it’s microcarbonation blew away my tastes buds, I would drink it. Predictably, it just blew, so I don’t. I have tasted beers that were supposed to be great-tasting, brewed by the most hip and reputable “craft breweries”, yet I disliked them because – yes, you guessed it – they didn’t suit my palate. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I would drink beer filtered through dirty socks if I liked the taste and it didn’t kill me.
So, maybe this ambiguous definition from Merriam-Webster, and lack of consensus on any other definition from the beer world about what defines a craft beer, is not all that important. What is important is that we all have ample access to the beers that we love, sold at reasonable prices in the volumes promised, and served in the correct manner. Meanwhile, I’m going to start memorizing this new definition, so I am ready for that next interview. How can I go wrong by answering, “Well, according to Merriam-Webster…”?
~ originally published on the VanEast Beer Blog on August 15, 2012.