Ah, Mr. Chimphead. A serious point must be about to be made. But being August, there is not much out there to read, not much worth writing about. People rightly have other things to do. But Bryan Roth has posted a useful examination of the use of the word "bubble" that gets the juices flowing. He did so hard upon Stan posting a piece pleading (maybe rhetorically) for the cause of "craft" based on its persistent use. And he did so perhaps not coincidentally after Lew was quoted extensively on the need to kill off the word. For Stan, the mere fact of use conveys a certainty of some meaning. For Lew, there is simply no need for the word: "I'm holding a smart phone in my hand. If I want to know, I just thumb it in." To be honest, I find these sorts of conversations appear amongst the All About Beer set rather regularly and I usually assume they are fillers until a real topic comes along. Quantity sometimes is a quality. What we have at this moment, however, is an opportunity to discuss how words are used to see if we can see what might actually be going on. So... let's do just that.
I have looked back into this blog's archives and those of others to see what can be found of assistance - not to mention making sure I did not write something entirely contrary to what I am suggesting here. It is easy to trace to way that "craft" was thrown away. It's illustrated in one sentence from 2012 that I discussed here:
The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers.
"Craft" was botched by the Brewers Association in two main ways. First, it was made mutable. It could be uniquely redefined by their sole higher authority - and then was redefined regularly. Second, as we see above, like the man who lends his rake to the new neighbour never to see it again the BA extended "craft" to big beer by attaching a mere "y" to it. And the BA did not just give large multinational brewers the gift of "crafty" but they reinforced the point by creating the concept of "craft-like" too. Prior to that point no legitimate voice on the small brewer side was admitting that big beer was making a product similar to the beers of BA members. Then their very voice of authority confirmed that some of the Evil Empire's beers were like craft. No one remembered the underlying intention of drawing a line. As Jordan wrote two years ago there is no such thing as an evil milkshake. All that the BA achieved with "crafty" was bringing macro into the club. Way to go.
Since then, we have seen "craft" not only extend to include these beers of big brewers but also things which were not considered well-crafted beer just a few years ago. Beers with facile fruit flavours to attracts folk who have no interest in beer. Beers made so poorly that the question is now legitimately discussed as to whether "murk" is now a style. The concept of "craft" takes in such a wide range of beverages now - even casually invading the distinct realms of cider and sake by times - that its meaning has been diluted and dissipated. It now includes so much meaning - so many meanings - that it no longer has little specific meaning. If you doubt that such a thing is possible, look up the word "jack" in the dictionary.
"Bubble" is starting to reach "craft"-like meaninglessness. Look again at Bryan's post. In it he discusses, quite acceptably, that the measure against which the posited "craft beer bubble" is to be judged is the growth in the number of craft breweries in the United States and their ability to sell expensive beer. He does not mention the ability of most of those brewers to sell and actually rely upon revenues from relatively inexpensively priced good beer. He also quotes from the BA's Tweeter-in-Chief, Bart, for whom I have a growing fondness largely based on his intelligent responsiveness to inquiries. When he was discussing bubbles last week, I asked a few questions to narrow exactly what he meant when he used the word "bubble" in this context. His answer was that "most common usage in econ is an asset price bubble" in relation to "collective brewery equipment" as it covers both number of breweries, their capacity and level of investment. He indicated his understanding was that lots of breweries [were] using equipment as collateral for loans.
We can see that "bubble" is being used in two very different ways by Bryan and Bart. And they are not mutually incompatible. The increase in the number of small entrants to the good beer market should be expected to be a pre-condition to a later "asset price bubble" in relation to "collective brewery equipment." There may be other meanings. Retail price collapse is one. We have seen a form of that with the slowing or even halting of inflation. Craft beer prices hikes five to eight years ago would not be accepted today. But that was a time when people could suggest with a straight face that value was not to be a consumer's consideration when approaching craft beer. "Bubble" can also mean a conceptual collapse. Craft's bubble could burst were the sector to splinter along the faults seen now: macro crafty, big, craft, actual local micro continue to have less and less in common. The word would burst in the sense that it no longer had a center upon which the all these different forms could latch onto and hold.
For me, "craft" has suffered a conceptual dilution in the same way that "IPA" has. I wrote about this three years ago. The success of the word as a word is in large part due to its failure in maintaining precision. Has the same thing happened to "bubble"? In the rush to set up straw man arguments "bubble" gets trotted out, defined to the proponent's convenience and then knocked down in yet another moment of triumph for craft... whatever that is... too? Think about it. Isn't discussing the bubbles in the craft beer market about as precise as a discussion of positives in politics? How useful is that? You know, in many contexts and for a number of purposes - very.