Dr Ina Verstl is the editor of Brauwelt International, an online resource for executives in the brewing and beverage industry. Ina spoke at last week’s Australian Craft Brewers Conference in Adelaide about the definition of craft, more specifically how she sees the definition of craft strongly linked to independence and local.
“Craft beer has finally arrived,”
As a category, craft beer is now recognised and accepted as a market segment and this, Ina said, is the big sign that craft is no longer a grass roots movement, it’s part of our cultural mainstream.
“For the consumer, craft beer is ideology in a glass,”
Local versus global, big versus small; Ina believes that for the drinker “ownership is central to what craft beer is.”
The idea of local goes beyond mere location, it’s a whole discourse, Ina says, about the way everything is approached. Much like when it comes to food, being local says to the consumer that quality is a priority above all else and the consumer, not finances, is at the heart of what you do which is why drinkers react so strongly when they see small breweries sell, it feels like a betrayal.
All brewers need to attract each generation and Ina believes this has been a challenge for the ‘large’ breweries like Lion Nathan and Carlton United. Ina draws similarities between craft beer and “fast fashion” with younger consumers attracted by the new innovations and styles and because they’re not hugely brand loyal. But can the big brewers adapt to this?
When craft and independent breweries create a new beer it is often the result of a casual chat and a pint with mates and/or other brewers or just an idea that pops into the brewers head and the process from there is basically a) have the thought then b) make the beer. The ‘big’ guys, on the other hand, launch NPDs with a lengthy strategy in place after they’ve conducted market research and the idea goes through several layers of departments and approvals.
The ‘big’ brewers can make great beer and when it comes to session and gateway beers, beers that are seen as a stepping stone from mass produced lagers to craft beers, Ina says, is something they do very well and she sees this is a challenge for independent breweries.
It’s highly unlikely, Ina says, that the ‘big’ brewers are concerned about the definition of craft beer. If the definition of craft is blurry it’s probably a good thing for them whereas for independent brewers, she continued, it is very important to find a way to differentiate.
Ina strongly believes a seal that signifies an independent brewery would go a long way to separating ‘big from small’, quickly and effectively communicate independence. The Brewers Association in the US introduced their Independent Craft Brewer Seal at the end of June, a move Ina says she was “baffled” it hadn’t happened sooner.
“For years, small and independent craft breweries have been turning the beer industry upside down,” the Brewers Association website says to explain the seal.
Drinkers understand what independence means, we just need to communicate it, Ina says and presents the Authentic Trappist Product seal as an example.
“Our label guarantees the monastic origin of the products as well as the fact that they measure up to the quality and traditional standards rooted in the monastic life of a real Trappist community,” – Trappist website.
It will be interesting to see if our own Independent Craft Brewers association follows in the footsteps of the Brewers Association in the US in creating a seal.
Last year Victoria’s Bridge Road Brewers introduced their own logos called ‘Respect(ing) the Craft’ and they were designed to quickly convey to the consumer that their beers were authentic craft beer. Read the details here.