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Craft beer is continuing to defy recessionary trends and is at the frontier of beer and beverage, with US sales of beer, alone, expected to have reached $110 billion in 2017 (Mintel, Beer and Craft Beer – US – October 2017). But as with all frontiers, there is the question of legitimacy.
On my search for credible answers, I talked to two very credible women in the beer industry, from two different continents: British School of Booze founder, award-winning beer writer and sommelier Jane Peyton; and Canadian Master Cicerone, founder of Beerology and established author Mirella Amato (her interview will be published next week).
With more breweries in the UK than any time in the last 50 years (25 breweries per million people, the most breweries per capita in the world according to Brewers Journal and Alltech) and the craft beer phenomenon offsetting the consumption of traditional lager, Ms Peyton elaborates on the trend’s origins and scale:
“It originated in the USA after home-brewing became legal in 1978. It encouraged people to experiment and brew full-flavoured beers inspired by British styles such as India Pale Ale and Pale Ale- the types of beer they could not purchase in the USA because of the dominance of corporations brewing inexpensive pilsner lager. Some of these home-brewers went on to start commercial breweries, such as Sierra Nevada and O’Dell’s.”
Proof of that is the number of independent brewers that have been purchased by global brewing companies. Macro pilsner lager sales are dropping so the global companies need to replace those sales and they are doing that by buying established indie brewers such as Lagunitas. I think it is fantastic if more people around the world are to have access to amazing tasting beers. There will always be independent brewers, but the worry is that they will be shut out of the market by the behemoths that have distribution and pub contracts tied up which leads to a lack of choice for consumers.”
The Progressive Beer Duty tax by former Chancellor Gordon Brown has been a big driving force in the craft market. But many longer-established breweries who brew only cask ales are now having to fight for a spot in British pubs. They are supported by CAMRA, a large British consumer group campaigning the last 45 years for the availability of Real Ale.
“Real ale is craft beer if it is not a mass-produced product and is brewed by independent brewers with imagination and innovation. Not all real ale is craft beer and not all craft beer is real ale.
The term ‘craft’ is now meaningless. Originally it referred to small independent brewers who brewed beer styles that were rarely brewed by the big brewers. The beers from indie brewers tended to be more flavoursome, often with higher alcohol levels. They also created hybrid styles and had more imagination than the long-established brewers who play it safe and make beers to appeal to the widest market possible. Now the word ‘craft’ has been purloined as a marketing term and used by breweries of mass-produced and mass-market beers.”
Subscribe to read next week’s continued discussion on craft beer, with Mirella Amato.