As with many of the words and ideas hovering around good beer for the last decade, we all knew for a while that “craft” beer has been a bit of a loser. Yesterday on social media, two of the biggest voices in good beer publishing affirmed its relegation. Here is an article John Holl of All About Beer on the status of the word:
As a media company, we rely on using words properly. One year ago this magazine took the first step in limiting the word craft in our coverage. Our feature articles no longer differentiate between craft brewers and not because we don’t have a solid definition. As we’ve always done, we report the news of breweries around the world. All breweries. Of course we know this will not be universally recognized, so you can expect to see the word pop up from time to time in quotes, or when certain groups, like the BA, talk about membership, or in our business coverage, where craft is considered a specific sales segment. It’s our duty to cover that as represented, and we will.
On Facebook, Todd Alstrom of BeerAdvocated commented in this way in Facebook:
I remember this conversation. 😉 BeerAdvocate magazine has also stopped gratuitously using the term. And Jason and I have been saying this for ages: Just because it’s “craft” (or “local”) doesn’t mean it’s good, nor should we blindly support it; especially given the level of mediocrity (at best) coming from far too many brewers these days.
It’s not a new idea. “Craft” as a label on good beer had been dubious for at least half a decade given its twisting for interested purposes including ensuring certain very rich people get very large tax breaks rightfully granted to other small business folk. And think about its actual lineage. It is not really appropriate to consider when the word was first used as that is the “tree falling in the forest” moment. It is only when a word gains both broad acceptance and ascendancy over its competition that it becomes definitive. A far more useful measure is the sort of thing we see when we compare the use of “craft beer” with “microbrewery” in the pages of The New York Times. “Craft beer” takes off only around 2007-08. Less than a decade ago.
If we truly care about meaning, we may want to ask why this happened. It is interesting to note that the popular acceptance of “craft” closely followed the merger of The Association of Brewers and the Brewers’ Association of America to form the Brewers Association. One of the key PR goals of the Brewer’s Association has been control of the discourse. They are obsessed with definitions and now hire many professionals including an economist to prop up their PR bulwarks. There was good reason to try to get more professional about these this given the countervailing “whack job approach” to making a case that was prevalent. The trouble is there is a whole pesky bigger separate discussion going on with consumers. Despite the efforts of the breweries, the consumer had an open mind and an independent eye.
And the PR spin was more than a bit of a botch. In 2012, the BA rolled out the failed “craft v crafty” campaign which fairly immediately fell flat on its face. It invited consumers to consider closely two things which had not yet been at the forefront of the discourse: (i) holy frig, those big “crafty” brewers can make pretty good beer and (ii) holy frig, those small “craft” brewers aren’t small. Notice what Holl and Alstrom mention up there. They dropped using “craft” a year pervasively or more ago. So, the arc of popular acceptance can, at best, be dated from 2007 to 2015. Eight short years.
This is good. Words come and go. And one reason they come and go is that the general pool of people in any given discourse know how to smell a rat. People recognize that the control of language is one of the first goals of anyone trying to not only promote but affix their interests a few rungs higher up the ladder than they deserve to stand. It is also good because we now live in the world of big craft billionaires and international big craft branch plants. “Craft” will slowly recede from the vocabulary as it should. Time for a new word. Or, better, words. What will they be? Stay tuned. The public will let you know.