The Irish Craft Beer and Cider Festival is coming up in a couple of weeks.
There’s been a bit of chat going around (exemplified by this open letter to the organisers on Reddit), which has made that bloody annoying craft/not-craft argument rear its ugly head once again.
For those not fancying reading the above (lengthy) diatribe, I’ll summarise: the author isn’t happy that the organisers are allowing The Franciscan Well Brewery to bring their beers to this year’s festival. Why? Because (in the author’s mind, at least) the Franciscan Well aren’t ‘craft’ enough for our craft festival.
The author has a point, I suppose, as the Franciscan Well was recently bought out by global corporation and peddlers of light lager, MolsonCoors. Following in the footsteps of Sharp’s Brewery across the water in Cornwall, Cork’s leading brewpub sold up around Christmas time, in order to get a significant slice of MolsonCoors’ megabucks to drive their expansion plans. Now, this has certainly ruffled the feathers of a fair few Irish beer fans; people have gotten their knickers in a right twist about the Franciscan Well now having an unfair advantage over their independent competition and being no better than the middle of the road stuff churned out by their MolsonCoors bedfellows, Blue Moon.
In the USA, Franciscan Well would no longer be known as being a producer of craft beer. The Brewers Association over there have clear guidelines detailing what exactly constitutes as craft and what doesn’t: a craft brewery must produce less than six million barrels of beer per year, be less than 25% owned/controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not a craft brewer, and have at least 50% of its brewing volume in either all-malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance, rather than to lighten, flavour. So, Blue Moon (owned by MolsonCoors) = not craft. Goose Island (AB-InBev since 2011) = no longer craft. Widmer/Kona/Redhook (32% controlled by AB-InBev) = you guessed it, non-craft filth. I joke, not being craft doesn’t mean not being good (has anyone had a Goose Island IPA recently? Joyous gear), it just signifies that the brewery no longer pertains to the ethos of indie brewing. Now, unsurprisingly, ‘non-craft’ enterprises aren’t always too upfront about their ownership structures, so they’re often referred to as ‘crafty’ beers. The bitchy world of beer, eh?
Right, this is all very well, but here’s the issue: we’re not in the USA. There’s nowt in Ireland stopping breweries calling their beers craft. The closest Franciscan Well has come to being shunned by the Irish beer community is them being de-listed by consumer group Beoir, which explicitly supports only independent Irish breweries. MolsonCoors have their big brash Irish marketing campaign going on at the moment called ‘The Craft Collection’ – everyone’s realised that ‘craft’ has become a major buzzword and can generate some serious cash. Don’t believe me? Look around the world of beer advertising: even bloody Fosters have got in on the act, with their lager allegedly being “crafted” to perfection. Jesus.
The organisers of the Irish Craft Beer Fest obviously realise that branding the event as ‘craft’ will be pretty attractive to Joe Public, but they evidently don’t care about the term ‘craft’ in its American sense. What they want to do (rightly so, in my opinion) is to showcase the best of the Irish beer scene. There’s no doubting that Franciscan Well have been a massive part of Ireland’s beer revolution, making a decent core range of brews, some exciting specials, and mentoring many of the country’s new crop of brewing pros. They still employ the same passionate Irish staff and the bloke in charge is still the same fella he was a couple of years ago – he’s just got a bigger brewery and has to arse about with corporate marketing teams. Sure, they’re going for a more mainstream market segment now and are unfortunately being piggybacked onto the Blue Moon wagon by MolsonCoors’ branding department. Yes, they may well be treading on the toes of some of Ireland’s ‘proper craft’ breweries in the wider market. But that’s another issue. In terms of the festival (where each exhibitor has only a small stand with a few tap handles to work with), shouldn’t the drinking public be exposed to the best beer Ireland has to offer?
Here’s a thought: let’s get round this problem by simply changing name of the festival. What would be wrong with “The Great Irish Beer and Cider Festival”? Sounds alright to me and there’s nothing bloody ‘craft’ in sight.