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.

 

Australian Craft Brewers Conference: Dr Charlie Bamforth

Dr. Charlie Bamforth was the keynote speaker for this years Australian Craft Brewers Conference and gave a wonderfully engaging and interesting talk.

In introducing Dr. Charlie Bamforth as the keynote speaker for this year’s Australian Craft Brewers Conference in Adelaide, Pete Mitcham wisely opted to forego the long introduction, allowing for more time for us to hear from the man himself, the Distinguished Professor of Malting and Brewing Sciences at UC Davis and basically THE expert when it comes to beer.

“Brewers should pull in the same direction,”

Whether you’re a brewer in a large or small brewery much of the concerns are the same, Charlie said, those concerns around the ingredients and the quality of your beer.

The quality of your beer, Charlie emphasised, isn’t dependent on brewers alone but every single person in the brewery. “Everybody is important,” he said and that it was “critical” for a brewery to look after their people and to ensure they are trained, happy and proud to be part of the brewery family.

“Intensely flavoured or not, balance is the key,”

Another key to the quality of your beer, Charlie said, is consistency and balance and that quality isn’t necessarily about the complexity of flavour.

When asked, “what is a good beer?” Charlie says he responds with “I have no idea.” Perhaps you’d expect a far more complicated answer from someone with the words “distinguished Professor” in their title but he simply says, “what’s good for you may not be good for me.” Beer is subjective and no-one should be criticised for their choice of beer, whether it’s craft or not.

“Beer is to be celebrated. Beer drinkers should be celebrated, they do not need to be insulted,”

The current trend of hazy IPAs, otherwise known as New England IPAs, is not Charlie’s preferred choice but it doesn’t change the fact it sells and people like it so, Charlie said, “who is to say they are wrong? They’re not wrong as long as there’s a market for it.”

“I think it should be a fair playing field,”

Whilst saying clearly he did not think there was anything wrong with a small brewery being purchased by a large one, Charlie felt it should be “transparent” so consumers know where the ownership lies.

“The craft industry keeps seeking to go to extremes,”

Maybe the beer industry could learn something from the wine guys when it comes to celebrating their raw ingredients. Crazy ingredients like oysters or chilli and other pushing-the-boundaries additions are great but, Charlie commented, “we have so much to celebrate in the basic raw materials” and whilst wine has been doing a great job in making grapes the hero of their industry perhaps we in the beer world should be making more noise about ours too.

Charlie’s comments popped back into my head when Dr. Ina Verstl, the editor of Brauwelt International who spoke after Charlie, quoted a statistic that said 88 percent of people in Australia didn’t know what ingredients are in beer.

“Do you want a glass?”

Charlie recalled ordering a beer at a restaurant recently and the waitperson asked if he wanted a glass. “Why do you ask?” Charlie replied. “Cause we don’t have very many glasses and we don’t want to run out,” she said.

Now imagine he had ordered a wine.

That conversation wouldn’t have happened.

This short interaction highlighted the huge differences between the perception of beer and wine in restaurant experiences in general. Whilst wine has a sense of theatre around it, most of the time beer doesn’t even get a glass.

“Beer should be put into a glass, admired and looked at and celebrated.”

The Australian Craft Brewers Conference continues today and then Craft Beer Awards are held tonight at Adelaide Oval, stay tuned to the girlplusbeer Twitter feed for the results (mostly) live.