The race towards abandonment of actual craftwork in the making of craft beer races ahead, lead by the forces of big craft. Just look!
Scoff if you must at mass domestic beers, but lessons learned from the makers of Budweiser and Miller Lite are helping to make sure your craft beer tastes the same from pint to pint. Far from the small and scrappy crew of home brewers that started the movement, craft brewers increasingly are turning to employees of much larger shops like Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors to tap their experience in creating beer with a consistent flavour and quality time after time on a large scale... Craft beer drinkers have simply come to expect that every time they crack a can or bottle it will taste the same as the last. If that doesn’t happen, breweries risk losing customers, says Julia Herz, the craft beer program director at the Colorado-based Brewers Association.
There are a number of reasons why this is such an unfortunate concept. One of the hallmarks of something actually "crafted" is an expression of its making. The microbrewing trade - and its pushy offshoots big craft and experimental pop fad beer - is challenged to provide that sort of expression primarily due to being thirty years into its medium scale industrialization. Brewing is an automated process. From nano to macro, computers and monitors and scales and bottling lines all run to a level of precision and speed that only modern gleaming stainless steel and the digital screens of computers can provide.
But with that embrace of the machine comes loss and, in the case of beer, it means the loss of variation. Variation is actually good. Very good. It is praised in wine. Not only from vintage to vintage but bottle to bottle and even the same bottle over time. A lump of good cheese in the fridge shifts from day to day. Jeans wear in. Ball gloves improve with age and use. These realities, however, are slipping beyond the grasp of big craft not only due to industrial methods but scale and speed not to mention anonymity. For most big brewers, whether macro or craft, the customer is distant. Or rather distanced. In a variety of times and space. Their beer can't be expected to be an expression or a conversation as no one can hear them. As a result, the beer must be less than it could be. Managed. Sterilized. No longer taking its own path. Spoken for by PR staff as it can no longer speak for itself.
The funniest thing, of course, is that it is not true. Beer degrades as soon as it leaves the tap. And it degrades according to the conditions present for each beer. The beer in the cooler for a couple of weeks is brighter than the beer stocked on the warm shelves. The beer dated a week ago takes different from the one that left home a couple of months ago. The most interesting brewers know this. Bottle conditioned beers contain the smidgen of yeast to keep the development going are intended to make their own way in life. Brewers experimenting with wild yeast and other experimental ingredients know that they are handing away a measure of control. And there is the reality of recipe tweeking. It's good. If you don't believe me, ask Mr. B. And all for the good. There is a word for it all: interesting.
So what to make of this next assertion that good beer needs to be less crafted to be craft? It's branding. Branding is what you tell folk to make that what isn't what is. Many will accept it. Many accept Bud. This is not a call for unsanitary beer. But it is a call for living beer. Beer that gets a good education and moves on with its own life. If your beer isn't like that... what is it?