| Beer, Craft Beer, Dark Star

Some Important Musings on the Nature of Craft Beer

Seriously, these Musings are Very IMPORTANT. 

A picture of a beer that is a craft beer, yesterday.

One of the more curious comments I’ve seen repeated by various people this week in the wake of Dark Star being bought by Fuller’s is the idea that Dark Star is/was not a craft brewer because it is mainly known for producing cask ale. The idea that cask ale is not and can not be craft beer is an intriguing one, and one that I don’t fully understand. So if you subscribe to this point of view, I wonder if you can help me understand it by answering the following questions? Thanks!

1. If a small, independent brewery produces beer across a variety of formats, what percentage of cask ale is it allowed to produce before it no longer counts as a craft brewery?

2. If that brewery produces both keg and cask beers, are its keg beers craft and its cask beers not craft?

3. Where do cans fit into this?

4. Or bottles?

5. If, say, Magic Rock brews a beer called High Wire and puts some of it into cask and some if it into keg, is the cask stuff not craft and the keg stuff craft?

6. If the cask High Wire is not craft but the keg High Wire is craft, how does that work? Does High Wire start off as a craft beer in the brewhouse, and when the cask stuff gets packaged into the cask it stops being craft? Or is it the other way round: High Wire starts off not being craft, but when the keg stuff gets packaged into kegs, that’s when it becomes craft?

7. What is it about the cask process/format that stops it from being craft? Is it the live yeast that requires more skill, care and attention to look after? Is it the container itself, which is more traditional than a pressurised keg? Is it the shape of the cask? Or is it the sound of the word ‘cask’, which doesn’t sound craft enough?

8. If Greene King were to produce a 5.5% west coast-style pale ale using acidulated, Golden Promise, Munich, Vienna malts and Cascade, Centennial, Chinook, Citra, Columbus and Magnum hops which gave it mango, lychee and lip-smacking grapefruit flavours that harmonised against a smoothly composed malt base, which develops into a crisply bitter finish, and they called it Why Hire, would that be craft or not? If not, would it help if they packaged some of it in key kegs?

9. If you buy a can of your favourite craft beer on Monday and the brewery gets bought by a corporate brewer on Tuesday, is the can of beer in your fridge still craft or not?

10. If it’s not, when does it stop being craft? When the deal was done? When you found out about the deal? If the deal was done last Friday, before you bought it on Monday, but it wasn’t announced until Tuesday, was your can of beer still craft when you bought it or not? Are you allowed to revise its status retrospectively? If you are, what authority or qualifications do you need to be able to make that call?

I look forward to reading your answers!

A picture of a beer that is not a craft beer, yesterday.



Dave Culliton

Just goes to show that the term “Craft” has eaten itself. I wonder when we’ll be mature and well educated enough as beer consumers to just judge beer by it’s quality?

Jon Archer

Here’s my take on it (and of course ready to be shot down!)
CRAFT BEER – a flavoursome, innovative and interesting small batch beer, manually produced by the independent micro-brewer with their utmost care and attention and utilising the finest and freshest natural ingredients.

Garrett Oliver

Well, David, the problem (and we have it on good authority, in writing), is that “craft” didn’t eat itself. Big Beer shot down “craft”, aided and abetted by the craft beer media.

A few years ago, everyone from BeerAdvocate to All About Beer declared craft dead. Which was the ABI plan all along – first break your terminology, then break and infiltrate your culture, then subsume you. All with your approval. I have to hand it to them – they’ve done a great job. I’ve heard British craft brewers talking about “Fuller’s isn’t craft” and “Sierra Nevada isn’t craft”. These people are out of their minds. American craft beer culture is BASED on what we went and saw in the UK, Germany and Belgium. Everyone on earth copied everything from Fuller’s ESB to Duvel, and then have the gall to say that these breweries aren’t craft breweries?

If you want to know what craft beer is, this is your lucky day. I’m going to tell you. Craft beer is beer made according to an individual vision. If almost no one in the company knows who the head brewer is, it’s not a craft brewery. You can be one million barrels and a craft brewery and you can be 5,000 barrels and have sold out on your first day. I’ve seen both. So yeah, actually it did matter, at least in the United States. And it could matter again, under the “craft” name or another. Nomenclature matters. And when you give that up, both your power and your culture go out the window. Ask any French chef.

Know your saints, kids.



Problem is Garrett, you lot over there speak a totally different language – two nations divided by a common language, and all that. “Craft” started in the U.S. and means something in the U.S.; it doesn’t translate well to the Queen’s English. We brew traditional boring brown bitter in cask, and throw overly-hopped hipster juice into kegs too, and we’re not “craft”. Why? Because I say so. (invoking the authority of the inimitable SUABP : “I’ve given up trying to separate Pale Ale and IPA. There’s only one objective criterion: what the brewer called it.” https://barclayperkins.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/lets-brew-wednesday-1987-boddingtons.html )


I’d come at this from a completely different point of view, I don’t think it’s even helpful to try to define if a given beer is or isn’t craft beer, it’s conflating the product of a movement with the movement itself.

We’ve seen the emergence of a lot of breweries which are small, independent, quality focused, cooperative rather than competetive with their peers, brewer lead and innovative in terms of styles and ingredients which collectively we’ve come to refer to as “craft beer.” Now all of these different aspects are completely up for debate as to how essential they are to defining the movement and we can argue until the cows come home what the proper definition should be but that should be the debate, not whether an individual can of beer in my hand can be properly refered to as “craft.”

Now even in the emergence of all of these breweries not every player we’d consider a craft brewer is going to satisfy every single descriptor that we put on the movement but that’s completely okay. The emergence of all of these breweries is a response to a broad set of conditions and an opportunity in the marketplace and not everybody is going to handle that in precisely the same way, what makes it an identifiable movement is that there are common aspects not that everybody is exactly the same. As time has gone on though and the market adjusts this is starting to become even more apparent though, with some breweries drastically increasing in size, others giving up their independence and any number of small breweries cropping up with prominent craft branding but with quality second in priority to market research and brand management. With all of this happening it’s no wonder that people trying to determine a test for craft purity are struggling for a consistent definition.

Coming at things from this point of view my response to your questions would be to say that
1) I broadly I feel that the predominant use of keg over cask is a result of the constraints that the craft beer movement put on most of the breweries we’d consider part of it rather than part of its essential character.
2) Independence probably is an essential part of what made up craft beer and the increase in beer in the same styles and of equal quality from breweries bought by large firms or the large breweries themselves should be the biggest piece of evidence that we’re better off talking about what craft brewers do rather than what craft beer is.


You could argue that a cask beer is more ‘craft’ than the same beer in a keg/bottle/can because it requires further skilled input once it has left the brewery.

Matt Wickham

Another very important thing we should consider here…
It’s only beer.
Does it taste nice?
Excellent, now have another one…

Jonny Tyson

I’ve never understood why some feel that cask isn’t craft. This opinion is as likely to come from the CAMRA brigade as it is a 20 something hipster. It’s nice to see Americans who essentially invented the concept of craft beer, embrace and show so much passion and interest in cask ale. They see it as a uniquely British part of the broader international world of craft beer

Jamie D

For me craft beer is about the intent behind the brewery that produced it. Keg / cask / bottle / can doesn’t matter – it’s all about whether the intent is to create a great example of the style, and is the brewery working on a human scale. If accountants are heavily involved in developing the processes & recipes to keep cost down or the brewery is part of a behemoth then it’s not craft for me. So everything Magic Rock is craft as far as I’m concerned, and if a brewery is bought by AB InBev then it isn’t craft anymore. That doesn’t mean an AB InBev owned brewery can’t produce good / great beer that I’m happy to drink, and theoretically I suppose Magic Rock could produce a bad beer (although I don’t think I’ve ever had one).

How British brewers / beer drinkers can consider cask not to be craft is beyond me. Cask beer is Britain’s unique contribution to the world beer heritage, and we should cherish it and if we aspire to being great British Craft Brewers then we should include being excellent at cask as part of our repertoire. That said if people just want to be Craft Brewers and ignore their British heritage, then I don’t have an issue with that, but it’s in no way inherently better than been great at beer styles that work well in cask, as well as other styles.

There’s more to craft beer than just the beer in the glass.


This is a tricky one.

I’m not sure you can really determine exactly what “craft” beer is, as it is a term which seems to have emerged and then evolved in more than one context. Originally an American concept, of small independent brewers, producing beer in novel styles, most commonly associated with being ‘hoppy’. There’s three characteristics right off the cuff. Not necessarily defining, but if you asked the average person on the street, I’m guessing that’s what a lot of people might come up with.

I like to compare beer to furniture (bare with me….). At one end you’ve got the cheaply, mass-produced stuff from IKEA. Then you’ve got the nice stuff you can buy at places like John Lewis and Heals. And at the other end you’ve got bespoke handmade pieces of cabinet making. Putting IKEA to one side, comparing the latter two examples: both use solid timber and both will feature dovetail joints. To someone who knows nothing about furniture, they will look pretty much the same, and certainly do exactly the same job. But to someone for whom these things are important, the Heals timber won’t have been carefully chosen so adjacent grain patterns compliment each other and the joints will have been cut on a machine.

The crux is, does it matter? A well set up machined joint will be just as strong as a handcut one. And timber choice is purely aesthetic. The handmade piece will also be substantially more expensive.

My eventual point is that to some people, the provenance of a beer is almost as important as what it tastes like. The question of keg/cask is a complete nonstarter for me. I can’t believe some people are even asking it. As for who produces it, if pushed, I would say you’ve got to be an independent, and preferably small. But where do you cut it off? Does it matter if your tiny “craft” brewery gets taken over?

This is why I hate, really hate the term “craft”. If you can’t define it, then it can mean almost anything. For brewers who most would agree are……. “craft” (he says through gritted teeth) I much prefer “small batch brewery”.

David Berry

Spot on as ever Mr B. Truth is I don’t think anyone actually knows, but why must we feel the urge to define a beer into a specific category? If it tastes good who actually GAF? Most decent beer drinkers don’t I’m sure.


Real ale does exist. There’s an actual definition. In the UK at least, craft is in the eye of the beholder.

Jerry Atrick

If you offer me a cask beer and some other version of the same beer, craft is whichever is £1/pint more expensive. Too often seems the rationale for craft beers. Otherwise, I’m certain trash beer is a thing but crast beer is just a meaningless advertising term.


CRAFT is an attitude, you cant fake it, you cant market research group it, you are craft or you’re not.
but yes craft beer is dead. it’s changing, time to just make great beer!
Ive been “craft ” brewing since the 90’s, I always regarded cask beer as craft, minus the craft attitude.

Gary Gillman

I have great respect for Garrett Oliver, but disagree with his perspective above.

A small, independent brewer can make a product indistinguishable from mass-market adjunct lager. We have a number of them in Canada. To call that a craft beer because it reflects an individual’s vision is a stretch. At least one of these brewers told me he does not view himself as a craft brewer.

If a large concern buys a recipe that was an individual vision of an enterprising brewer, e.g. Goose Island, Meantime’s beers, etc., and the beer continues as before in recipe, how is the individual vision lost?

To me craft is down to palate and recipe, and production scale or ownership structure have nothing to do with that. That Wells Young Courage Imperial Russian Stout of a few years ago is a craft beer. Most cask ale in the U.K. is unless so watered down in taste and character it does not deserve the appellation. Guinness Stout draft is not a craft beer (today), etc.


Nick Goodwin

You’ve hinted at something which has had me worried for a little while now – there are a set of beer drinkers out there who have either skipped directly from shite beer to good, keg beer, and hence have bypassed cask altogether, or who have decided that cask is simply uncool and avoid it like the plague just to be seen to be on trend.

This is a worry for cask producers, demonstrated/exacerbated by some modern breweries diminishing, or stopping entirely, their cask output. Thus reinforcing the view amongst the cask haters.

If you can’t understand and appreciate the subtleties and craft (argh!) that goes into good quality cask beer then your ability to understand and appreciate modern keg beer, and the opinions you have about the beer you are drinking, can only be taken part-seriously.

Good beer is good beer, good drinkers are good drinkers.


To me the extra cost of so called craft beer plus those who champion it betrays it’s American roots and puts it in the category of monetisation of previously cheaper /free alternatives see also darts /flight club etc.

Nick Roberts

I remember the first time I was in a Craft pub in the US – they had one handpump for cask beer, and described cask conditioned beer as “the acme of the brewer’s art”. Really not going to get into that debate, but they were veru clear that cask beer was certainly crqft of it came from a craft brewer. Intent is all.


This is old news when brew dog ‘invented’ craft beer circa mid 2000’s they were the coolest thing since sliced bread, even though it was made in Blackburn, hyperbole wins if your good at trumpet blowing

Jay Cole

Craft beer” should be exactly what the name suggests. Just like craft furniture, craft pottery, craft textiles and the myriad other artisan made products available these days. If it’s made by craftsmen and craftswomen with a love and respect for the product itself, and with the direct involvement of the creator/designer in the manufacture, then it’s “craft”. If it’s made from ingredients selected for lowest cost and inoffensive uniformity of taste that are delivered by the articulated truckload and chucked into a machine by unskilled labour for processing, with the role of head brewer being filled by a “financial management” type, then it’s not “craft”. The system of storage and final delivery to the consumer has nothing to do with it.
The preoccupation with (key)kegs seems to have more to do with the rise of the trendy microbar. The demand for craft beer by the hip and fashionable goes hand in hand with the need for somewhere hip and fashionable to be seen drinking it. There are, of course, a great many excellent bars run and staffed by people with a passion for the product. Down here on the south coast of Dorset and Hampshire we are blessed with several, and quite a few genuine “craft breweries” to supply them. But there are others around the globe where an opportunity is seen and taken to exploit the trend just for the money. When staff are recruited more for their attractiveness and the skinnyness of their skinny jeans, it’s harder to maintain cask beer in its optimal condition. Then there’s the need for every night at the bar to be a beer festival-esque tasting experience. Difficult if you only have a couple of hand pumps squeezed in between the Estrella (or Peroni, or Sapporo, possibly Stella) tap and the 100+ varieties of gin. You can fit ten keg taps in the space needed for a couple of hand pumps if you’re careful, and the fickle chalice glass of fashion can flit from tap to tap all night long. Not that I’m saying this is necessarily a bad thing. Variety is, as they say, the spice of life. The days when you’d pop down to the local for a pint or 2 of “the usual, please, bartender” are for the most part long gone, being seen as the unfashionable reserve of your Dad and Grandpa, and fans of sports on large tv screens.

Ian Laker

I find the whole craft v cask thing ridiculous. I love both. The new diverse and exciting wave of craft beer has been a welcome kick up the backside of established and, dare I say it, complacent traditional cask breweries. However, I find it highly irritating that hipster craft drinkers act as if great beer never existed previously. I’ve been drinking great cask for the best part of 40 years and currently brew all-grain at home. I still balk at the idea of artificially carbonating a miraculous natural product in a keg so choose to bottle. Whatever the pointless category, the only thing that matters is great beer and it’s never been as exciting and varied as it is now. Cheers!


Like it or not, it has to be recognised that, in the UK, “cask” and “craft” have come to be seen as two different and mutually exclusive categories.

Chris Griffiths

There has been a lot of debate about what is craft and often people just come to the conclusion that maybe we should just care about good beer and not worry whether it is craft or not, which in all honesty is a valid point of view.

So it’s worth keeping in mind that a beer labelled as Craft Beer or a Real Ale does not automatically make it a good beer and in the same way a macro brew is not necessarily a bad beer.

So for me a craft beer is a beer that has been brewed by someone who actually cares what the end result is, whether it was brewed on a state of the art fully automated system or by a home brewer in his garage using a plastic bucket fitted with the heating element out of a Tesco value kettle.

If someone cares enough to use the best ingredients they can get their hands on, to produce the best interpretation of a beer they can, then they are a Craft Brewer making craft beer even if the end result turns out to be a drain pour.

So as we don’t have a formal definition of craft beer draw your own conclusions, but keep in mind the quality of ingredients and the passion of the brewer are what really matter and if you look at most of the brewery’s producing what we call craft beer you will always find a passionate team of people using a mix of innovative and traditional methods to make amazing beer.


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