Watching Entre lúpulo y malta brought to mind the now-notorious video released last year by AbInBev in response to the Brewers Association’s introduction of its “Independent Craft Brewer” seal for use by breweries.
In that video the founders of breweries recently acquired by AbInBev’s The High End division –10 Barrel, Wicked Weed, Elysian, Four Peaks, and Devil’s Backbone—expound on why the label is a bad idea, even though they themselves are excluded from using it, and so on. Part of the way they do that is to argue that there is no difference between what they do and what BA member breweries do. While, from a technical standpoint, that may be true, they deliberately muddy the waters when it comes to what defines a “craft” brewer, and thus “craft” beer.
That they can do that raises the issue that, while for a long time what defined a craft brewery seemed pretty clear-cut, with an increasing number small breweries being acquired by brewing industry giants like AbInBev, Sapporo, Heineken, that definition is being blurred. (There is also the BA’s own continual expansion of the upper-bbl limit, but that is a matter for another time.)
In Peru there is the same sort of discussion going on as to what makes a beer a “craft” beer? But, there, the discussion is being approached from the other end.
Unlike the US, Peru has a living artisanal tradition and millions of people make their living from an artisanal economy, but until just a few years ago there was no history of small, independent brewers. Even those very few regional brands that existed tried to compete with the big brewers on their own terms, brewing the same kinds of beers, and as far as I can tell, all were either absorbed or went out of business. There was no equivalent to a Yakima Brewing, New Albion, or Anchor Brewing, to serve as a reference point.
So, Peruvian consumers, with no experience of small-batch, locally-produced beer, and no experience of beer styles other than big boy’s pilsners, are encountering an as yet small, and fairly localized (to Lima), but booming craft beer industry without a reference to what is a craft beer. But, they are trying to figure it out.
In so doing, many look to what they have in their hand: What makes this beer a craft beer and not that one? And, that’s where things get tricky.
As Peruvian craft brewers crank out a variety of very tasty ales –stouts, porters, weizens, fruited beers, etc.—consumers sometimes think that a craft beers is defined by “being in a different style” or by simply having “more flavor” than Backus & Johnston’s mass-produced lagers.
Another stumbling block is in the language itself. In Spanish, “artisanal” and “craft” are both expressed by the same word: artesanal. Now, because of Peru’s living artisan economy, everyone pretty much has an idea of what artesanal means. And, of course, what it means in most instances is things made at home, or in small home-based workshops, by hand or with minimal technology, without the refinements and standardization available to industrial producers.
Thus, I’ve had people in Lima ask me whether filtering would take away a beer’s artisanal quality. The working supposition being that an craft/artisanal product is less “finished” than an industrial one.
Naturally, there are those who argue –and with whom I agree—that what makes a beer “artesanal” or not is not the beer itself, but the brewer. However, even on that point, there is confusion. In discussions online with Peruvian homebrewers, some have expressed that they consider themselves cerveceros artesanales because their beer is home-made.
The lack of clarity on this point shows up in Entre lúpulo y malta, where the first cervecero artesanal that is presented is Christian Zapata, a dedicated homebrewer and president of the Peruvian homebrewers’ association, Asociación de Cerveceros Caseros del Perú (ACECAS).
Does it matter? Probably not that much. Not yet at any rate, while the Peruvian craft beer market is still quite small (in 2016 production was only 10k hectoliters, or 6.3k bbl), but as it expands and legislation and taxation begins to catch up and the Backus & Johnston conglomerate (itself owned by AbInBev) begins to feel threatened, a working definition of craft beer could well become quite important.
As it is in the US.