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Craft Beer Explained

Names carry a lot of weight in anything to do with culture. Whether it’s fashion, food, music or art, there will always be stuff that’s considered mainstream, disposable, mass-produced and easily accessible.

And on the flip side, there will be other things that appear to elevate the genres by being more experimental and creative, and appealing to a smaller set of discerning customers.

Beer is just another example. We can all probably name twenty mainstream beer brands off the tops of our head, even if we never touch it. They sponsor sports competitions and advertise on primetime TV. The product is almost secondary to the name.

But in every country where beer is popular, there will be dozens if not hundreds of small brewers – from individuals in garages to microbreweries – doing something different. They’ll work on small batches to create novel beers in all manner of flavours, strengths and colours, from a diverse collection of ingredients.

In fact, they might never make exactly the same beer twice (not for want of trying). And if they do sell the beer, it’ll be to local pubs as guest ales or take it to fairs and markets.

To most aficionados of the industry, it’s that latter type that would qualify as being “craft” beer. But is it just to do with the substance itself, or is there more to it? Can a large brewer make craft beer?

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What’s the difference between craft beer and regular beer?

Regular beers tend to be aimed at more mainstream tastes, so are brewed for familiarity by using basic, predictable ingredients and methods. Craft beer is often brewed specifically to appeal to more adventurous tastes, but some craft beers do have accessible flavours. It’s more about the philosophy.

Not surprisingly, some proponents of craft beer can take the connoisseur act a little far, and try their best to alienate outsiders. Real lovers of craft ales are merely satisfying their own tastes, and are thrilled to get the chance to try new beers, and to introduce friends to them. Visit a local beer festival and you’ll hear nothing but laughter and lively chat, not the sound of chins being stroked.

Some would say that mass-production differentiates craft beers from regular ones. That doesn’t hold true. Beer that’s made with quality ingredients and brewed to perfection can be made in 10-litre batches or 10,000-litre batches as long as the process is modified to take the scale into account.

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Is BrewDog a craft beer?

BrewDog is a craft beer because it fulfils all the criteria: it’s adventurous with a traditional heart, brewed by artisans and made to satisfy the tastes of people who appreciate good beer. It started out in 2007 brewing in a garage, and people loved just the product.

The timing of BrewDog’s rise to national, then international, repute was perfect. There was a taste for more wholesome things across culture, in music, fashion and food. Craft ales came along for the ride, and some brewers managed to get the tone just right to get their message out there.

Yes, we might have engaged in some edgy marketing, but it would have fallen flat if it wasn’t for the great product. And while we’re certainly big for a craft brewer, we’re still minnows in a world of multinational brewing corporations. By any measure, BrewDog is craft beer – and proud of it.

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Finding craft beer

There has never been a better time to be a British craft beer lover. Small brewers’ products can now be found canned and bottled alongside mainstream beers in supermarkets, and we urge you to try them all – even the ones without BrewDog on the side. You might find one that blows your socks off and you’ll never look back.

Also, look for guest ales in pubs and bars. You might not find one in the glitzy nightspots, but plenty of local pubs, and especially those in the countryside, will feature a selection of locally brewed beers, often on tap. And finally, get familiar with any of your local bars that specialise in craft beers. Bars that sell nothing mainstream at all are popping up all over the land, and you can spend every night there for weeks and not exhaust their selections.

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What is considered craft beer?

If we were to define craft beer, we’d say it’s beer that’s made with an independent mind, designed to appeal to more experienced palates and with a complex flavour. There’s no particular flavour or ingredients that would make a beer “craft”, though.

The word “craft” also implies a certain amount of expertise. You’d never consider yourself a master carpenter after assembling a flat-pack cupboard, but if you made a beautiful piece of furniture from a tree you felled yourself, then yeah, we’re calling you a craftsperson. Same with beers: it’s not the size of the barrel that matters – it’s how good it is.

The important thing is what you like. A person who loves craft beer might prefer instant coffee to master roasted, and mass-produced milk chocolate to 99% cocoa bars wrapped in parchment. It’s not a judgement on the drinker or the eater. There’s no right or wrong. It’s only taste.