Don’t Bash Beer! Is that the right message? ran a story today about a “powerful” speech delivered by Craft Brew Alliances’ CEO, Andy Thomas, at the 2014 Beer Industry Summit being held in Scottsdale, AZ.  Check out the full story at the link above. It will provide better context for what follows.

In his 45 minute speech, Thomas reportedly took shots at the Brewers Associations’ definition of craft brewer and their “craft versus crafty” fiasco, suggesting the industry is spending too much time arguing about who is “craft” and not enough time educating consumers about brewers, styles and brands.

Craft Brew Alliance is not a craft brewer under the BA’s definition (small, independent, traditional). That’s not to say they don’t make beer you may think of as “craft.” Craft Brew Alliance’s brands includes Widmer, Redhook, Kona, and Omission.  My very first post on this blog more than four years ago was a review of Redhook’s Double Black Stout, a crazy delicious imperial coffee stout.  I’d buy more of it tomorrow if they made it again.

Though I did not know it at the time, that first post (which, incidentally shows how far this blog has come in four years) demonstrates the very problem with trying to define “craft brewer,” much less “craft beer.”  For the vast majority of us, we’re after great tasting beer.  If it tastes great we’ll drink it and buy more.

That also presents a conundrum. We know the BA and many craft brewers expect us to distinguish between “big beer” and “craft brewers,” but the BA has done a poor job of explaining precisely why.

Based on Brewbound’s report of Thomas’ speech, Thomas argues the distinction should be dropped entirely as its doing more harm than good.  Brewbound’s Chris Furnari writes that Thomas ended his speech with the following challenge:

“Don’t bash beer,” he said. “Don’t bash craft beer. Don’t bash crafty beer. Don’t bash domestic beer. Don’t bash imported beer. Don’t bash light beer. Don’t bash brands. Don’t bash brewers. Don’t bash beer consumers. Don’t bash retailers or wholesalers. Don’t bash beer — celebrate beer.”

Thomas issued this challenge to a group of 300 beer industry representatives, so I understand and appreciate the context. But the sentiment expressed is a dangerous one, particularly in the broader context of the entire beer industry – writers included. 

Fellow blogger Ryan and I were having that very conversation over on his blog Montana Beer Finder in response to his post about wearing a skirt and being a cheerleader for beer.

Sure, not every beer writer needs to be an investigative reporter, but all voices united in praise or, to use Thomas’ word, celebration, of beer is as hollow as bashing based on uncertain and unexplained distinctions.

I agree with Thomas that we don’t need “bashing.”* But we do need questioning. We do need criticism. We do need divergent voices. It’s a sure sign of a maturing industry and critical to its continued success.
* Ain’t nobody got time for that.