Cracking Open Craft Beer
By Alex Dodds & Carissa Kasim
6 minute read
We're diving into unfiltered vats of the craft beer world.
It's a topic that certainly divides opinion.
For social commentators it is a symptom of gentrification. The bearded hipster, arty can in hand, intent on turning everything they see into a niche, overpriced store.
For the post-capitalist utopians, it is a movement that signals the end of capitalism, with local producers taking back control from the evil conglomerates, uniting to break the chains of blandness and homogeneity that have been forced upon the people of the world.
For other less opinionated folks, it’s brought about some different tasting (and looking) beer.
Why are we focusing on it in this month's Nutshell?
Whether you like beer or not, the industry is a case-study in disruptive innovation. We have seen incredible marketing stunts pulled with a shoe-string budget, myth-busting of the misconceptions that brewing as much as possible for as little as possible was the only way forward and taking on all-encompassing oligopolies and winning.
So sit back, chill out (with or without liquid refreshment) and read some of the cool stuff that’s going on in the World of Beer.
What is it? Where did it come from?
The craft beer industry has seen tremendous growth over the past decade and chances are, you've stumbled upon one walking around hipster neighbourhoods. But how much do you know about craft brewery and its history?
- The craft brewery revolution had its start in the 70s, when cascade hops were released from the US government's breeding program. Since then, craft brewery has been weaving its way through prohibition, industry shifts, and the wall set up by the brewing giants in the US and the UK.
- While there is no set (or consistent) definition of a craft brewery, it generally refers to small, independently-owned breweries that adopt traditional brewing methods to emphasise certain flavours.
- Here's a cheat sheet for those moments when you don't know what to order.
Combating political and environmental issues one sip at a time
- Sanctuary Brewing Company introduces a new breed of beer activism that advocates for animals and is looking to set up an animal sanctuary
- Good water makes good beer: Breweries are huge advocates for clean water. They are not only exploring ways to reduce their water footprint, but also finding innovative ways to guard the soil, air, and climate.
- 40 craft breweries launch the People Power Beer Campaign, a self-organized grassroots effort to support the American Civil Liberties Unions work to protect right of equality
- The Takeout, a food and pop culture website, notes that craft beer became a potent protest symbol in the age of Trump
Pouring life into small towns and deprived urban areas
The boom of craft breweries has also become an urban economic phenomenon for its transformative impacts on cities and neighbourhoods (see Bermondsey's Beer Mile in London and ) that have been subject to disinvestment and deindustrialization. Breweries don't just fill vacant manufacturing space, they also draw large sums of economic investment and serve as community hubs, gathering places, and sources of local identity and pride.
The untapped opportunity of providing choices
The beer industry was one of the worst offenders of industry consolidation, with two companies: Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors, dubbed as Big Beer, owning nearly 90 percent of beer production in the USA (2012). The duopoly stamped out innovation and robbed consumers of variety and quality, which ultimately gave rise to the resurgence of craft beer.
The sheer variety of options allowed the industry to tap into Millennial values: individualism, choice, and adventure. And what better way to engage with them than through digital platforms?!
- Beer Connoisseur ranks the best beer apps (such as Untappd) to help you enhance your beer experience
- Poughkeepsie-based Plan Bee Farm Brewery makes beer with 100% New York state ingredients
But the Beer industry, like many, still has its own particular problems with diversity. Plenty of women, non-white, non-facial haired men also enjoy craft beer, but data has shown that beer festivals and events are often filled with white, possibly flannel-clad, men sporting facial hair.
- BrewDog's attempt at ironic, satirical marketing of their Pink IPA, created for the female consumer, backfired last year
- Brewers Association is tackling the diversity problem by establishing a Diversity Committee and appointing a Diversity Ambassador
Acquisition over prohibition
After failing to create their own craft beer, Big Beer has been acquiring small labels such as Goose Island, Lagunitas and Camden to prevent local brands from encroaching on their shelf space.
- Here are 14 American breweries that have sold out to Big Beer
- Brewer Association's "Independent Craft" seal to certify independently owned breweries and fight against corporations who are co-opting their authenticity
No informative article on craft beer is worth its salt without a few clueless punters doing a taste test of the area's finest. So here's our attempt with the views of Manifesto's Oli Bello, Will Rylance and Alex Dodds going up against the experts of untapped.
Zazel - Gipsy Hill Brewing
N1C - House of Cans x Two Tribes
Pogo - The Wild Beer Co.
What untappd said: A Framboise style Kettle Sour. Soured and packed full of raspberries - 4/5
What untappd said: A classic session IPA - 3.5/5
What untappd said: Refreshingly light bodied and perfect for enjoying in the sunshine - 3.5/5
What we said: "That is horrendous" "tastes like tomato juice" - 1/5
What we said: "Bit meh, doesn't do too much for me" - 3/5
What we said: "It tastes class" "tropical, quite sweet, couldn't drink too much of it" - 4/5
Helles - Cloudwater
IPA - Wild Card Brewery
Based on a True Story - Manual Brewing
What untappd said: A German-style pale lager, with a crisp finish and very little hop bitterness - 3.5/5
What untappd said: A dank, hazy IPA. It's hoppy, it's bold and it's limited edition - 4/5
What untappd said: Fermented with a blend of yeast strains, conditioned on organic cocoa nibs - 3.7/5
What we said: "Light, but with some flavour" - 4/5
What we said: "Surprisingly not that hoppy, defo doesn't taste 6+%" - 2/5
What we said: "Can really taste the choc" - 3/5