What Makes a Beverage “Craft?”

CrushBrew.com Explores the Definition of Craft Beverage


Craft beer, artisan wine, craft cocktails, what does it all mean? Many things to many people: organic, locally-sourced, creatively produced, hand-made, quality ingredients, small-batch – you name it, people will be happy to explain what craft really means, but when you come down to it, the definition of craft beverage is just a little bit mutable.

Jason Hamilton, bar manager and beer list cultivator for Barrel Down in downtown Los Angeles, has 36 out of 40 taps devoted to craft beer, and calls his bar and casual restaurant an “American craft beer hall. We want to expose people to what craft brewing is all about, but without being pretentious.” So what is it all about? Hamilton believes that with true craft brews “there’s always a tale behind it, how it was made, how it’s sourced, and why it was created.”

The Brewers Association defines craft beer as brews that are small, traditionally produced, and independently produced. In other words, a brewer that produces 6 million or fewer barrels annually is owned by at least 75% beer industry members, and which is flavored by traditional or innovative ingredients as well as fermentation.

For Hamilton, craft beers are both high quality in terms of ingredients and brewing, and also innovative. He cites one solid example of innovative craft brewing as the 4.2 ABV Holy Gose from Anderson Valley Brewing Company, in Mendocino County, Calif. “It’s a fresh, light tasting sour beer made with salt water, wheat, coriander and hops. The pucker has a tangy, salty edge. It’s light, perfect for summer, and like nothing else you’ve ever tasted.” And back to the Brewers Association – which asserts that innovation is one of the craft market’s major characteristics.

Like beer before it, cocktails and liquor have entered the realm of craft, with artisan cocktails produced by skilled and acclaimed bartenders, and ready to consume, high quality bottled cocktails. As with beer, the liquor craft market means a unique take on a traditional beverage, independent production, and small-batch creation.

What about wine? Craft wines are likewise produced in small batches, offer high quality but varied and diverse wines, and are not produced by large “corporate” wineries – which make up over half the wine retailed in the nation. You’ll find that craft wines, like beer and liquors, tell a story – about the varietals used, the fermentation process, the barrel or vat types, the terroir that’s unique to where the grapes are grown. Craft wine makers also seek out the diverse, shaping wine for discriminating consumers rather than mass consumption.

Coming into the equation of craft late in the game, are non-alcoholic beverages including so- called craft sodas, that use organic or high quality ingredients, eschewing common mass-produced elements like corn syrup, and are, like beer and wine, prepared to be “different.”

It might be wise, all in all, to describe craft beverages less for what they are, than for what they’re not: mass produced, bland, and created using ingredients that may be vetted more for price and convenience than quality.

Non-craft beverages in general care more about the bottom line than individual consumers; craft ventures aim to change all that, reaching out for an intimate connection with buyers. The buyers who seek out craft wine, beer, liquor, or non-alcoholic drinks are often committed to a certain responsible, sustainable lifestyle, or are acutely aware of the ingredients in the products they buy. In short, an educated market as passionate about what they consume as the creators of a craft product are passionate about making that product.

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