Australian Craft Brewers Conference: Dr Ina Verstl

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.

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.

Image from the Brewers Association website

“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.

Image from taptrails.com

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.

 

Forget the “craft” debate, let’s get rid of “snob”

Forget the word “craft”, it’s the word “snob” that really needs to be eliminated from the beer vocabulary.

Last week I posted about the word “craft” – Craft is the Word – and I know I was pretty late to the debate. It’s a topic that has been discussed at length by beer people far more experienced and opinionated than me. I wasn’t really compelled to write on the topic any earlier but since it seemed I was reading articles on the topic on a weekly basis so I found myself thinking about it more and more – hence the blog post.

Since writing the post, what has become far more apparent to me is that the word “craft” is not nearly as dangerous or threatening as the word “snob”. If there is one word that needs to be erased from the beer community, to me, it’s this one.

Beer snobbery is exactly what beer is not about. I could dribble on at length on the topic but another Australian beer writer, Glen Humphries of Beer is Your Friend, has already done it and, quite frankly, it’s spot on. Please read it here.

Seeing beer snobbery in action, like when someone tells someone else their beer choice is shit, and reading misleading mainstream articles that refer to ‘beer snobs’ like they are common place and representative of all craft beer drinking people is harmful.

Ok, so maybe it’s not harmful in the same way that smoking is harmful but the word ‘snob’ doesn’t encourage people to try craft beer, it reinforces a perception of exclusivity and elitism. None of these things are good.

The irrelevance and inaccuracy of the term ‘beer snob’ peaked for me on Sunday.

On Sunday it was International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day and all around the world women in the beer industry came together to brew beer. The style is pre-determined and I think there were hundreds of breweries around the world that participated. For the first time here in WA we did one too, I wrote an article on it for Crafty Pint which will be going up soon so I won’t be going into details of the brew here, but the happy feeling I still have from being part of such a day is wonderful.

IWCBD 2015
Ladies from the beer industry all around WA come together for International Women’s Collaboration Brew Day

It felt great to be a part of a genuine community and the way that Chloe, Charlotte and Leala of Young Henry’s Beer Farm, located in Metricup in our south west, threw open their doors and welcomed everyone in was generous and warm and, in my experience, completely indicative of the attitude of the beer community.

Beers flowed freely, no question was foolish and everyone was encouraged to get involved.

This is the beer world that I live in and its attributes of generosity, shared experience and support are echoed in the bartenders I know, the retailers I met and the people who drink craft beer. Sure, there are some moments when I shake my head, when I hear comments that are needlessly negative or mocking of others, but they are not the majority.

Move along beer snobs, we just want to drink good beer, share it with good people and that’s about it.

 

 

Craft is the word

For me the word “craft” is still relevant and it still has meaning but its not what defines the industry, its not what it was built on nor what will continue its growth

“It’s got a groove, it’s got a meaning”

For those playing along at home, yes I am attempting to channel a little John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in ‘Grease’ because hell yeah when it comes to the subject of beer, craft does has a groove, craft certainly has a meaning.

In recent years that meaning has been debated, a lot. It seems like every other week I am reading an article about the definition of craft beer, whether is it about an overwhelming need for a definition or a questioning whether its really such a big deal.

“It’s been a depressing spectacle this last couple of years watching people who share a love of great beer tear each other apart over trying to define what craft beer is.”

Pete Brown, 2013

Article – Pete Brown: Is anyone still interested in a definition of craft beer?

The argument for a solid definition of a “craft beer” and “craft brewer” can sometimes feel like a call to action, for all small and independent brewers to unite and take a stand to ensure that the big brewers, the giant corporations, don’t get their grubby mitts in the craft beer pie.

Article – Brewdog: Defining Craft Beer

Article – Brewdog: Defining Craft Beer – Take 2

“Legal definitions are everywhere and are designed to protect a product’s reputation from poor imitations.”

Brewdog, 2013

Those big brewers, giant corporations, like Carlton United and Lion Nathan have their craft beer range of beers, Matilda Bay and James Squire respectively and I often see debate in the social media world as to their credentials. The big brewers are too big, owned by an overseas company and produce too much for these beers to be labelled craft.

Or are they?

How relevant is the size of production or the ownership of the brewery? In relation to the current Brewer’s Association (US) definition its very relevant. It defines craft beer by how much beer the brewer produces, the ownership of the brewery and the method by which they brew. Read the full definition at the Brewers Association website here.

CBIA: A national body which represents the Australian craft brewing industry

A little closer to home we have our CBIA, the Craft Beer Industry Association, which defines craft beer in a much more simple but still meaningful way –

“Craft beer is borne of a mindset, an idea between art and science that inherently requires the skill of a brewer”

Article – Australian Brews News: On the definition of craft beer

Though I am sure many people would disagree with the above, calling for specific outlines and guidelines, it resonates with me because my personal definition of craft currently lies more with intention than it does ownership.

For me the word “craft” is still relevant and it still has meaning but its not what defines the industry, its not what it was built on nor what will continue its growth. Craft brewing means to me that the brewers are creating something they love and that they want others to enjoy, it’s about creating beer with the best ingredients they can get for the beer they want to create and whether they are trying to replicate a long respected style or create their own, the final product is something made with passion and integrity. Call it craft, call it small batch, call it artisanal, as someone who loves beer these words get my attention but my decision to drink these beers rests on so much more.

Article – Draft: The meaning behind craft beer

I read articles calling for a definition of craft beer and I don’t disagree with the argument, I think I just feel there is more happening in the industry, more pressing issues than a single word that require attention. Of course I say this knowing I am on the outskirts of this amazing industry. I don’t own a brewery, nor do I brew beer and nor does my income depend solely on the continued growth of craft beer. I am a blogger, a cheerleader at best and there is so much about beer worthy of pom poms and summersaults – brewing innovation, the diversity of flavour, the celebration of tradition and availability of international beers alongside beers that were brewed a few kilometres from home. Let’s celebrate all this and not get caught up in the little things like a single word. Get caught up in beer, it’s much more fun.

Article – Stone & Wood Brewing: Be good, not crafty!

 

 

Weekend Reading #27

This week features articles on the that word again – “CRAFT” – and branding and what happens when a big guy buys a little guy …

I love lounging in bed on weekends and catching up on all my favourite beery reading. From blogs to articles from the American craft beer scene and the best local beer news, there’s excellent reading material out there so every Friday I’m posting a list of the articles and blogs that have excited me.

All About Beer | A Single Word: The Case for Beer

I don’t know if I am surprised or not by the continued spotlight on the word “craft” and what it means to the industry and/or what it represents about the industry to the outside world aka the consumer. This is a nice piece from John Hall, the editor of All About Beer Magazine, explaining why they have made a conscious effort to minimise their use of the word “craft” in the magazine. I like this piece, it feels like they are keeping it simple and inclusive rather than categorising and excluding.

“One word shouldn’t be a dividing point,”

John Hall, editor All About Beer Magazine

Stone & Wood Brewery | Being Good … Not Crafty!

More on the word “craft” but this time from a local Australian brewery perspective – namely Jamie, Brad and Ross who are the founders and owners of Stone & Wood Brewery. I think their words resonated with my own feelings on the topic the most; we can debate the parameters of “craft” all we like but in the end it’s about being genuine and honest. Tell us what you believe in, how you want to do business, what sort of beers you want to put out there and then go ahead and do it. Most importantly, do it well.

“At the end of the day though, it’s a description that needs to be earned, it can’t be self proclaimed”

All About Beer | Why Brands Matter

Thanks Steve Finny, Feral Brewing, for bringing this article to my attention via the wonderful world of Facebook. I have always liked reading about branding, I find it really fascinating and probably why I ended up doing an advertising degree. My greater love of booze is probably why I now have a degree in advertising that I don’t use.

“We have strangely complex relationships with brewery. The mention of a name produces a tangle of impressions, memories, prejudices and emotions.”

Branding is a funny one because when it’s so good you really believe, or at least you really want to believe, but there is a cynical part that resists buying into it.

When I think about branding and beer I think about Little Creatures and the reaction to Lion Nathan buying them. Some seemed to respond like an admittance of defeat, as though a friend of theirs had been inevitably captured by the enemy. Others seemed to feel like they had been betrayed, like their friend had been captured and tortured behind enemy lines. The reaction was far more interesting than the situation itself.

Draft | AB buys Elysian: A View from Seattle from the Rhine

On the subject of brands, feelings and breweries buying breweries, here is an article on the recent acquisition in the US. The end of the article sums things up nicely,

“Like any other business it depends on consumer choice”

How important is ownership? How significant is its impact on the final result?

 

Weekend Reading #11

I love lounging in bed on weekends and catching up on all my favourite beery reading. From blogs to articles from the American craft beer scene and the best local beer news, there’s excellent reading material out there so every Friday I’m posting a list of the articles and blogs that have excited me.

I love lounging in bed on weekends and catching up on all my favourite beery reading. From blogs to articles from the American craft beer scene and the best local beer news, there’s excellent reading material out there so every Friday I’m posting a list of the articles and blogs that have excited me.

Business Insider | Craft Beer Consumption in Australia has Passed a Big Milestone

It is always nice to read about craft beer consumption rising, to feel like the old perception of overweight Australian dads drinking VB is fading away and here is another article telling us pretty much exactly that.

“The consumption of import beer also continued to climb from 14% to 17.3% of the population.”

What is also interesting is the increased consumption in imported beers. So basically if you’re craft or if you’re foreign then the market is being pretty good to you. If you’re hoovering somewhere on the outskirts of these categories, domestic premium or domestic mainstream or whatever other terminology pops up, then perhaps you’re scratching your head and wondering why beer consumption overall is dropping.

The increase in imported beer drinking is interesting and I wonder how much parallel/grey imports influences this. If you can get what looks like a fancy pants European lager cheaper than you can a local mainstream like Boag’s or Crown then its not surprising Crown ends up being the bridesmaid and never the bride.

Serious Eats | Sunday Supper: Grilled Bratwurst, Beer and Cheddar Soup

Perth’s brief cold snap and our freezing house as made me think about soup a lot recently and then I found this recipe. I haven’t made it yet because I’m concerned I’ll only make this soup and never anything else.

image
my homemade pumpkin soup

Serious Eats | 12 Beer Producing Countries to Watch Right Now

I’ll save you the anxiety in wondering and tell you that Australia doesn’t appear on this list sadly. However our Kiwi neighbours are on there so just like we did with Russell Crowe I think we can claim this one as ours too.

“Kiwi beer culture is on the cutting edge”

It is a list that is hard to argue and includes Denmark, Canada and Italy and it wasn’t until I reached the New Zealand part of the article that I was reminded just how lucky we are to have access to so many great NZ beers.

image
one of my favourite New Zealand beers

News.com.au | Best Craft Beers in the World Revealed by Evan Porter, craft beer guru and former pro golfer

Anyone who likes long headlines, beer, golf and lists would have fallen for the clickbait title of this article just like I did, though I don’t actually like golf. I am mildly disappointed the headline didn’t take advantage of Evan’s surname – Porter. “Beer by name, beer by reputation” perhaps? I just think someone missed an amazing opportunity.

The Wall Street Journal | Craft Breweries Scale Up but Keep it Real

You’re cool, you’re indie, you’re craft, you’re cult and then you get bigger and bigger and then you’re mainstream.

It’s a funny old world of perception out there. This article uses Sierra Nevada to paint the picture of the little brewery who had to convince drinkers to try their beers to what is now a multimillion dollar brewery investment.

“Now, instead of convincing the public that good beer can come in tiny batches, the challenge is proving that it can be produced in quantity without losing its soul.”

Weekend Reading #5

I love lounging in bed on weekends and catching up on all my favourite beery reading. From blogs to articles from the American craft beer scene and the best local beer news, there’s excellent reading material out there so every Friday I’m posting a list of the articles and blogs that have excited me.

I love lounging in bed on weekends and catching up on all my favourite beery reading. From blogs to articles from the American craft beer scene and the best local beer news, there’s excellent reading material out there so every Friday I’m posting a list of the articles and blogs that have excited me.

An unusually busy week resulted in a lot less writing than I’d normally do but I still caught some good reading which I hope you like!

Paste Magazine | The World’s Next Great Beer Town? Paris, France
Pop culture website covering everything from gaming, food and drink, tech and entertainment

I read somewhere that “beer is to Belgium what wine is to France,” but judging from this article some French palates are craving a more frothy beverage. Romantic as hell, beautiful countryside and great cheese and now great beers too?! Oh my, Paris you are looking damn fine.

Serious Eats | Cheese 101: The Stinky World of Washed Rind Cheese
Food blogs and tasty stuff

Almost any article with “cheese” in the headline gets my full and complete attention like a kitten chasing a laser pointer. I’m a cheese-hopeless, if that’s a thing. Throw in the word “stinky” and I’m even more signed on. This is a great read that covers off an overview of what washed rind actually means, how they are made and the all important examples with droll inducing descriptions. My favourite description from the article is definitely this one:

Though it stinks up their air with shockingly rude odors, the flavor is deliciously meaty.

lingot d’argental
lingot d’argental

Serious Eats | Your Guide to Father’s Day Drinking

More from the Serious Eats page. It was father’s day in America recently so the usual articles appeared but I liked this one for the tasty food and drink recommendations that are normally not so enticing in a fluffy insert-celebratory-day-here piece.

Australian Brews News | On the Definition of Craft Beer
One of the best sources of information on beer in Australia

This topic isn’t very new, it is a debate that has kicked around for a bit. Personally I don’t really see the need for everyone to agree on a definition but when you consider how often the term is used it is unsurprisingly people want to define it in specific terms. How you would do this I have no idea. This article does not attempt to put a definition out there but does give us two very different examples which is an interesting talking point in itself. Well, interesting cause I’m a massive dork, hopefully you all are too!

Crafty Pint | A Spooning Spectacular
The other awesome Australian craft beer source of what’s happening

It’s collaboration fever, last month’s Good Beer Week attracted lots of international brewers to our sunny country so it’s only inevitable that some ended up brewing whilst they were here. The Fingerlime Saison sounds divine!

Beer of Tomorrow | There is only one thing you need to turn your wife or girlfriend into a Craft beer lover and you won’t believe how simple it is
Craft beer website from LA

I saw this title and almost didn’t click on it because I didn’t want to subject myself to another hideous “how to make women like beer” article. I just get mad and then feel compelled to open a stupid percent barley wine just to spite them. Anyway, I got a pleasant surprise when I read it. The last dot point is my favourite.

 

The Session #78

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, started by Stan Hieronymus of the Appellation Beer blog. This is how it works: on the first Friday of each month, beer bloggers write about a predetermined topic. A different blog is chosen to host each round of The Session. The host blog selects a topic, and then posts a roundup of all the responses received. For all you need to know about this beer blogging concept, including the upcoming topics, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s blog page about The Session.

Here I am, happily breaking my session cherry …

Beers

The Session is a monthly event for the beer blogging community, started by Stan Hieronymus of the Appellation Beer blog. This is how it works: on the first Friday of each month, beer bloggers write about a predetermined topic. A different blog is chosen to host each round of The Session. The host blog selects a topic, and then posts a roundup of all the responses received. For all you need to know about this beer blogging concept, including the upcoming topics, check out the Brookston Beer Bulletin’s blog page about The Session.

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What: The Session, Beer Blogging Friday, No. 78
When: Friday 2nd August, 2013
Host: James Davidson of Beer Bar Band
Topic: Your elevator pitch for beer

Here’s the scenario:

You walk into an elevator and hit the button for your destination level. Already in the elevator is someone holding a beer…and it’s a beer that annoys you because, in your view, it represents all that is bad with the current state of beer.

You can’t help but say something, so you confront your lift passenger with the reason why their beer choice is bad.

30 seconds is all you have to sell your pitch for better beer, before the lift reaches the destination floor. There’s no time, space or words to waste. You must capture and persuade the person’s attention as quickly as possible. When that person walks out of the elevator, you want them to be convinced that you have the right angle on how to make a better beer world.

… and here we go …. 

After a little friendly elevator banter I ask my new friend why they purchased a 6 pack of Pure Blonde, they reply with a casual shrug, “I don’t know, I just always drink it”. Unleash the elevator pitch which, by the way, in my head the tone is friendly and funny like Adam Hills, not ranty and angry like Dennis Leary …

Imagine someone asked you, for no reason, to eat plain white toast for breakfast every day for a year. You wouldn’t do it would you? Not when there’s a world of eggs benedict, pancakes, croissants and English fry ups.

So … [points to their beer] … that beer – it’s toast, it’s boring old toast and you’ve condemned yourself to drink it time and time again.

Did you know there’s a Scottish brewery who put one of their beers in taxidermied animals? I’m not saying good beer only comes in the form of beer in roadkill but man, you’ve gotta get your head out there and check .. shit … out!

Flavours like chocolate, caramel, pine, citrus, coffee, rum, grass, banana, funk and god knows what are waiting for you! Was your Pure Blonde aged in cognac barrels? Was it the first beer by somone who gave up their career to follow their passion for beer? Nope.

Besides, you deserve better than Pure Blonde. You look like a man of the world, a man of good taste, what are you doing pouring this rubbish down your throat? You might as well drink Yellow Glen and call it champagne; ride a bicycle and call it a camel!

They say variety is the spice of life, there are plenty more fish in the sea, life’s too short, fuck it – they are all just sayings but hear this … Craft beer is the mother-fucking bomb. Get into it. Now. Trust me, I used to be a bartender.

Thanks James for hosting The Session, doing a fine job of “rallying the troops” and a great topic!