Tuesday, December 04, 2007

What is craft?

I once sat at a beer bar and overheard the manager proudly talking about the beers he was bringing in from everywhere ... everywhere that is except from local breweries. He had neglected to mention even one local brewery.

What of the local small carbon footprint so talked of these days?

I was sitting at another beer bar recently (my job, you see!), talking with a gentlemen from Wisconsin. At the age of retirement, he was proud of his region's local beers, but he was equally enthused about searching out local beers wherever he was now able to travel.

He had recently vacationed in Hawaii. His first day there, his bartender was unable to point him toward a brewpub, and in fact, was ignorant of even what a brewpub was.

But later that day, while driving, he just happened to to see the sign of the Waimea Brewing Company. He didn't quite screech to a halt, but he did change his itinerary for the day! "Wonderful beer," he told me. And fresh and local.

Rob Kasper, columnist for the Baltimore Sun (not the gentlemen with whom I had been talking), recently posted this on his blog:

Like the New England Patriots lineup, the roster of The Boston Beer Co., makers of Samuel Adams, is impressive. A label on a bottle of their Boston Lager puts the brewery's current count at 18 different beers.<...> There was some talk a few years back that Boston Beer was too big to be a real craft brewer. Is that over? Or is it still an issue?

What is the ontological measure of 'craft'? Is it size, automation or not, goals, practices, quality, flavor, 'localness'?

Boston Beer now brews a significant amount of their own beer at their own breweries, rather than at others'. That fact alone could indeed be a measure of 'crafting' beer.

So at what degree does size alone preclude a devotion to craft?

I think that that is an argument of sound and fury, signifying little. (Here, I'm not referring to Kasper, who was simply posing a rhetorical question.)

With the exception of a few burps, Jim Koch and his Boston Beer Company have been fierce partisans, participants, and, indeed, makers of the craft beer movement.

And that is more intrinsic to the meaning of craft than casual dismissals of local beer.

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