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Define: Craft beer

Beer_Nov06_AHere at WishBeer we strive to deliver the best beers to our customers in and around Bangkok. The vast majority of these beers are labeled as craft beers, a term which has taken the beer industry the world over by storm. To many of us, craft beers are synonymous with quality beers from small brewers but take a look at some supposed ‘craft’ beers, and you will quickly come to find that they are actually brewed by some big players.

Take a look at this post from Gizmodo. Pretty crazy isn’t it? Because of the use, or misuse of the term craft beer, we can’t blame you when you begin to question what exactly a craft beer is. So, we set out to try and find a proper definition for craft beer.

First a look at the beer industry

When talking about the beer industry, experts will usually divide the industry into four different categories based on the size of the brewer:

  1. Macro – Macro brewers are largely considered to be the big-boys of brewing. Their production is massive and usually includes many brands. The biggest, and most well known, macrobrewer is Anheuser-Busch InBev. Closer to home, ThaiBev, brewer of Chang can be considered to be a macrobrewer. In truth, there is no set definition for microbrewers, it’s really any brewer that has a large production and numerous brands.
  2. Micro – This term is applied to small breweries that usually produce beer for a local area or region. The output of microbrewers is lower than their bigger macro competitors, but there is no real defined output to differentiate between the two. Most people just call smaller brewers micro. A good example of a microbrewery in Bangkok would be Tawandang.
  3. Brew pub – A brew pub is a local brewery that produces beer which is largely consumed on location. Production is typically low, usually just enough to supply the pubs own needs.
  4. Home – Beer that is made in low quantities, usually in the homes or garages of amateur brewers. We will cover home brewing in greater depth in future articles.

So what exactly is a craft brewery?

The problem with the brewing industry is that it can be hard to define or peg brewers into different segments. Because there is no set definition of microbrewers, and some that started out small have grown into larger operations that, while popular, can’t compete with macrobrewers, but are bigger than micro. In order to address this, or make it more modern, companies started to label their beer as ‘Craft beer’.

According to the Brewers Association in the US, brewers must meet three criteria in order to be called a craft brewer:

  1. It must be small – A brewer can produce no more than 6 million barrels (around 7.15 million liters) in one year.
  2. It must be traditional – This doesn’t mean that beer should follow traditional recipes, instead the brewer should have an all malt flagship – highest selling beer – or 50% of the volume produced is all malt beer (beer using 100% malted barley).
  3. It must be independent – In order to be a craft brewer, the brewery must be independent. They don’t have to be 100% independent, instead a maximum of 25% of the brewery can be owned by other brewers who aren’t craft brewers.

Companies that meet these three general requirements can call themselves craft brewers, and can also call their beer craft beer. To take this term further, let’s look into what separates craft brewers from the bigger macrobrewers.

What separates craft brews from the rest?

There are a number of characteristics that separate craft brewers, and beer, from the large brewers. Here are four of the more popular:

  1. Craft beer is innovative – Because these brewers are smaller, they can usually afford to be more innovative, producing beer that is based on old styles, or even incorporating some crazy ingredients. Take for example the various brewers in both Europe and the US that have started using various types of hops and ingredients like chocolate.
  2. Craft beer is usually traditional – Many craft brewers create beers that follow more traditional recipes and even brewing methods like the Reinheitsgebot. They usually brew beer that is, well beer, free from adjuncts like corn and rice.
  3. Craft beers connect with the local environment – Many craft brewers are deeply involved with the local population and local environment itself. From charity events to stores, donations and even using local ingredients, the smaller brewers tend to be not only deeply involved with the local scene, but a large part of it themselves.
  4. Craft beers tend to taste better than their macro counterparts – Because craft brewers are free to experiment and use better quality ingredients, the beer they produce tends to be more flavorful and different than their bigger counterparts.

Because of its popularity, craft beer will not be going anywhere any time soon. And as it becomes increasingly popular in Thailand, we should see some more home-grown craft brewers appear, and hopefully a home-grown craft brewery industry flourish here in Thailand. Stay tuned, because in the coming weeks we are going to be covering what often brings about craft beer companies and a craft beer revolution: home brewing.

Wish of the week
Kasteel Tripel

This has got to be one of the original craft beers. Brewed in only one location, an abbey in Belgium, this golden bodied beer is one that truly sets what ales should taste like. Take a sip of this beer and savor the spicy yet balanced taste. Kasteel should be on the must-have list of any serious beer drinker.


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