I was talking to a friend the other day about a new craft beer bar and drinking Almasty Brewery’s Cherry Sour got me thinking….
Anyone remember the days where you heard the word ‘craft’ and it meant crepe paper, pipecleaners and green spatula’s for spreading glue? (OK so Im harking back to my school days but Im not that old!).
This is one of the things I love about the English language. Words don’t stand still, even words that look totally innocuous can change their image in the blink of an eye. Take the word ‘hop’. That was playground activity not too long ago in my mind, however, its rapidly becoming a word which means to me at least ‘come this way son, its the promised land’.
But getting back to Craft, and in particular the ‘what is craft beer debate’. Lets look at craft breweries, these breweries were microbreweries when I was growing up. I first became aware of the use of ‘craft’ being in relation to American microbreweries and actually the word microbrewery never really did the UK brewers justice. This isn’t dull mass produced beer in small batches, this is innovation and experimentation. The craft label is far more articulate about what it is that they do and how they do it. I’ve certainly never known such creativity applied to beer and long may that continue.
Beer has been a massive part of Tyneside’s history, my first memories of going to St James’ to watch Newcastle (inevitably losing) are dominated by the smell of the Scottish & Newcastle Brewery sited over the road, right in the heart of the city, and we all drank our fair share of Dog as we were growing up (or Newkie Brown for those south of yorkshire) and sticking to the carpets in the Bigg Market was a right of passage for a young Geordie drinker (I once stuck to the carpet next to Ant of Ant & Dec fame, or was it Dec? Who knows), but the choice of beer back then was lager or bitter. You walked into a pub and ordered a pint of lager or a pint of bitter, basically a beer style rather than a brand/beer by name simply because there wasn’t the choice. Most bars were brewery owned so pretty much every bar in Newcastle had a blue star over the door, so you knew what beers were on before you walked in.
The choice of beer these days is tremendous. We regularly go into the fantastic Bridge Tavern on work nights out. Here’s a recently opened pub with its own brewing kit. The expert brewer there produces beers of any guise, for example I recently had a rhubarb and custard gueze, brewed on the premises, which was bloody incredible! One of those beers that you can still remember the taste weeks later, it was that good. But the choice is amazing, its brilliant being able to choose from a broad spectrum of beers and you can even try a range of them by ordering a flight (4 thirds for a fiver, bargain!). It works because there’s always something available to suit any palette. But its incredible that these unusual beers are commercially viable. At the end of the day those brewing a barrel of beer have to be confident that the effort put in wont be poured down the drain if the punters don’t buy it. Almasty Brewery has only been open a matter months and theyre producing beers like a cherry sour. As brilliant a beer as it is, it wouldnt have stood a chance if it was produced 10 years ago.
So what does craft mean to me? I have heard people (some CAMRA members) say that it just means kegged beer but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Ask yourself, why has the term come into being? Surely its only used because not all of the good quality beer that’s produced in this country falls into the ‘real ale’ category. So instead of analysing the words used, just open up and enjoy the variety, cos that’s craft.