Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Other Craft

by Karen Mahoney of City by the Sea Ceramics

Craft- an art, trade, or occupation requiring special skill
Craft Brewery- an independent brewery that produces up to 6 million barrels of traditional beer per year

May 16-22 is American Craft Beer Week. It's a time when the brewers of the country come together to promote their craft, offering special tours, rare and special brews, parties, tastings, dinner pairings, and other events. As a crafter myself, I appreciate and feel the need to spread the word of the other craft: beer. It's a great American craft, that doesn't generally come to mind when thinking of the term. Let's change that!

The Brewers Association recently changed the definition of a craft brewery from producing a maximum of 6 million barrels, up from 2 million. Boston is home to the largest American-owned (those big guys are all foreign-owned) brewery, Boston Beer Company, aka Samuel Adams. They lead American breweries, producing about 1.8 million barrels a year. The next highest production is from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, CA who doesn't even produce 1 million barrels a year. Budweiser produces about 150 million in this country a year. Of the $101 billion in beer sales in 2010, only 7% of that is craft. The combined total of over 1,700 breweries is still only 7% of what the big guys see.

Craft brewers face the same obstacles us other small crafters face. There are bigger, richer, world famous company with tons of profit to dump into advertising that will bring more profit. They have little understanding of the needs of the communities they lie in, and don't care to know their customers faces or names. They only want their dollars. Bringing in more dollars is the goal, even if it means giving up quality. It is a very different business style than what crafts of any sort promote. We have to struggle to keep our head above water and to find those who recognize the importance of what we are doing and what we have to offer. Craft brewers too struggle against "the big guy" and the mass produced item that comes to most people's mind when they hear 'plate', 'sweater', or 'jewelry'.

Jim Koch of Samuel Adams giving a tour

As a potter I see many similarities between brewing and ceramics. They are both delicate balances of science and art. They both at one point gave civilizations the ability to sustain themselves, pottery by giving people something to cook and contain food in and beer by giving nourishment when food wasn't an option. Potters and brewers both use natural materials, being at the mercy of what the earth can offer you. Mines deplete and crops die. We can carry out our projects as planned, but things can go wrong at the very end, both in the fermenter and in the kiln. The most well known brewers and potters in America aren't going to be recognized by 99.9% of the population. Both processes are long and drawn out, being completed over a number of weeks. Beer and pots both can contribute to the beauty and enjoyment of a meal.

Brewing grains

American brewers are now leading the way, inspiring European brewers that gave us the classic styles. Our brewers are incredibly creative and curious, not letting traditions or standards stop their ideas. There are brews out there with flavors of pistachios, chocolate and espresso beans, jalapenos, bourbon, oatmeal raisin cookies. I've even brewed up a *delicious* ale myself using peach ginger tea. Brewers are taking the basics and pushing them to develop what they are looking for. Now that's craft!

I urge you to celebrate American Craft Beer Week! Support this local craft by grabbing some bottles at the store from one of the many amazing breweries Massachusetts is home to or stopping by one of our great brew pubs! Beer is like any other craft, if you get your toes a little wet you'll find yourself wanting to jump right in and learn all you can. If you want any recommendations at all, comment on this blog post, I would be so happy to help you find a beer/brewery/brew pub!


  1. What an interesting spin on craft beer! I celebrate ACB week each and ever week throughout the year! :D Shared this post with several people!


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