How do consumers define craft?
The Americans go with volume. To be a craft brewer in the US, you must brew fewer than 6 million barrels of beer a year. Only a short time ago it was 2 million. As a growing category, it’s only fair that the volume threshold should lift accordingly.
But, as a definition, it doesn’t quite tell the whole story – notwithstanding the obvious issues around moving goalposts.
Because craft is about so much more than the size of the breweries. UK brewers have made attempts at broader, more nuanced definitions (incorporating commitments to ‘authenticity’ and ‘honesty’) but their interest in protecting craft rather than defining it somewhat clouded the endeavour. Hence why they found it so difficult.
What all these definitions have in common is that they’re exclusively from the perspective of the brewer, not the consumer. Craft was never purely a supply-side phenomenon so why should it be defined as such?
When attempting to define it for themselves, consumers reach for a variety of different adjectives: ‘independent’, ‘local’, ‘small batch’, ‘brewed with passion’, ‘bold flavours’, ‘high in ABV’, ‘hipster’, and so on…
But, arguably, the core of the appeal – the reason it continues to grow apace – is that first adjective; independence. Not simply their freedom from major brewers (though that is part of it) but their independent spirit, their unbounded individuality – as expressed through their brewing style and branding.
That’s why – save the most ardent craft drinkers – most people don’t care whether the brewer is actually independent or not. A feeling of independence is usually enough.
The most successful craft brands are those that express this best. Brewdog’s punk posturing, Beavertown’s trip-inducing psychedelia, and The Kernal’s raw minimalism. All fiercely, wildly individual.
I’m not pretending for a second that this is anything new. Rather, that this is the most illuminating way to understand craft. It explains why so-called ‘crafty’ brands (owned or part-owned by major brewers) can happily co-exist with the genuinely independent in the mind of the consumer.
Those who seek to protect it, rather than define it, deny the reality of craft. It’s time to include the consumer in the discussion.