The problem with 'craft' beer

Young Henrys brewery co-owner Oscar McMahon: "Mates buy mates the beer they want, not the beer they think they should have."
Young Henrys brewery co-owner Oscar McMahon: "Mates buy mates the beer they want, not the beer they think they should have." Photo: Supplied

There is an ongoing problem in the beer industry around the definition of "craft". To some people, it suggests a flavour profile while other beer drinkers use it as an indicator of a brewery's scale, or believe it applies only to independent companies.

I say the term "craft" is too confusing and we need to stop using it.

Craft, by definition, can mean two different things: an activity involving skill in making things by hand or a skill used in deceiving others – that is, being crafty.

Both of these definitions apply to beer in 2019. While the market is full of small- to medium-sized businesses making beer by hand, it is also rife with multinational companies being crafty by creating (or acquiring) brands many customers perceive as small-scale craft breweries.

If craft just means quality products made using natural ingredients and traditional brewing practises, then I think we can say some of the big companies make craft beer, right? Are Furphy and Fat Yak craft beers? Yes. Are they also the design and construct of a marketing and brewing team from a multinational company? You bet.

Independence seems to be an important factor in people's perception of craft in the Australian beer landscape. But then, no one thinks Feral Brewing is any less craft since it was acquired by Coca-Cola Amatil in 2017.

If you really care about independence in beer, you're probably already following your favourite brewers on Instagram and shopping accordingly. The info is out there for those who want to research and support Australian-owned companies, and the Independent Brewers Association has created a seal for members to use on labels to indicate their independence.

Many of us have started using the seal because it is a point of pride. A David and Goliath punk-rock honour.

Adding to the term's confusion, "craft" is often seen as a flavour too. When Young Henrys talks to "non-craft" drinkers at an event or festival, we often hear, "Oh I'm not really into craft beers – there's too much going on with them".


Certainly, there are characteristics of flavour and aroma that are noticeable or favoured by the craft beer community such as punchy hop aromas and puckering sourness. But, a super-clean, low hop, brightly filtered lager can be made by your local craft brewer and sit very comfortably next to the Peronis and Heinekens of the world.

So let's start moving away from "craft". It means too many things to too many people. Just "beer" is fine. (Although maybe beer drinkers should also follow the food industry and use "junk beer" to identify certain big brands.)

People are smart enough to like what they like and vote with their wallets – mates buy mates the beer they want, not the beer they think they should have.

Oscar McMahon is the co-founder of Young Henrys, Sydney.