A Beer By Any Other Name ...

May 19, 2017

Last weekend was Dark Lord Day—one of the big craft beer events in the Midwest.

Even if you do not typically enjoy the hopped-up IPAs, the coffee-like Stouts, or the diverse Belgian Sours, you cannot help but be impressed by the growing popularity of craft beer. And that’s the problem.

Don’t get me wrong. Craft beer is, in fact, the best thing that has happened to the carbonated malt beverage in decades. The problem is with the name.

Right now, everything is “craft.” We have “craft cocktails,” “craft recipes,” “craft chocolates.” And this is because the word “craft” no longer identifies a kind of DIY or “Do It Yourself” approach to making things, as it has since the advent of the industrial revolution. It is now a genre category.

For better or worse, “craft” now functions like the word “alternative” in music. At one time, “alternative” designated DIY garage-band stuff. By the mid-1990’s, however, it named a new category for commercial pop — something carefully developed, curated, and marketed by the music industry. And so it is with “craft” — especially craft beer.

At one point, the word designated a kind of handmade brew that was only available in small quantities. Today it is a highly commercialized industrial product. And perhaps the best illustration of this is Heineken’s recent acquisition of Lagunitas—where the one-time star of the microbrew revolution will now be the Dutch company’s new international craft beer brand.

So that’s it: “Craft” is the new “alternative.”

Cheers.

I’m David Gunkel, and that’s my perspective.