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The Craft Beer Mythbuster Series: What Makes a Beer a Craft Beer?
Rob Heyns from the League of Beers demystifies the difference between craft and commercial
So, you think craft is code for fancy beer or is the key to looking cooler than your friends. Or perhaps you’re under the impression that a beer is not a craft beer unless it’s slugged back by a bearded hipster who gets to work on his vintage Vespa .
There are lots of dividing factors that make craft different than commercial, and none of these points qualify. What does, you ask?
Let’s get the technical stuff out of the way first. From a purely factual point of view, here is how the Brewers Association breaks it down.
- INDEPENDENT – Craft breweries are owned by craft brewers. No more than 25% of a brewery may be owned by a big brewer or company if it wants to qualify as craft.
- SMALL – Craft brewers produce small batches and small annual volumes. Mass production is a no-go.
- TRADITIONAL – Craft beers are made with the best possible ingredients. This used to mean only malt, hops and water. Now, there are all sorts of interesting ingredients, like aniseed and candy cane, used to add a creative spin to new exciting beers and seasonal batches. Most importantly though, craft brewers do not use corn and rice to dull their flavour.
While that’s all good and well, those are just a bunch of words, sort of like those IKEA cupboard assembly instructions you never read. Here’s how the info actually affects your beer-drinking experience:
What I love most about craft beer is the flavour. Tasting the malty goodness of a good brew is a feeling that I never get tired of. And when it comes to flavour, craft beer is king. As their success doesn’t hinge on branding or selling gallons of product, craft brewers are free to devote themselves to creating full-flavour, unique beers for beer addicts to savour, fall in love with and tweet about.
If you’d like to have more than four beers on tap, the world of craft beer is where you belong. There are so many craft beers out there, made in so many different styles that even a full-time craft beer drinker, like myself, will never get through all of them (This won’t stop me trying though!).
Loving the underdog
If there’s one thing that all Capetonians have in common, it’s our love for rooting for the underdog. We all do this in different ways. Whether you secretly love the Rocky movies or go to the little pizza place on the corner rather than one of the franchises, you’re backing the little guy. The beer industry is dominated by massive corporations that spit out mass-produced product with a severe lack of flavour. Craft brewers tend to own their small start-ups, and often, the operations are run by between one and three mere mortals. These men and ladies are following their passion to produce the best possible beer for you and me - and our palates.
There’s always a story
Every craft brewery has its own story and personality, and the tastes and interests of the brewer are the basis of the styles and recipes. Every ingredient has a purpose, and even the labels are expressions of what the beers mean to its maker. Have a chat to Kevin from Darling Brewery, and you’ll see how much effort and thought goes into brewing each new beer, deciding on a name and designing a bottle so that all the elements of the product work together.
These are just some of the reasons that I love craft beer. But none of these facts can compare to actually having an ice cold beer in your hand. So go out and try some craft beers for yourself and be prepared to get hooked!
Yours in beer,
About the author:
Rob Heyns is the resident beer sommelier at the League of Beers – an online retailer of craft beer in South Africa. He is passionate about craft beer, supporting local brewers and providing South Africans with new craft beers to tickle their palates.
*Photos courtesy League of Beers
Want to hear more about craft beer from Rob? Read his article on 7 winter recipes to go with 7 craft beers.
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