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March 7, 2011 | by  | in Opinion |
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Beer will be Beer – Faux Craft

What makes beer ‘craft beer’ is a hotly debated subject among beer geeks worldwide. Every person has their own definition of what a craft beer is. To me it is a beer which is well made, has assertive flavour, and stays true to its stated style, while respecting the ingredients.

Big brewers have noticed the trend towards craft beer and have tried to capitalize on it by releasing different brands which claim ‘craft’ status. The fact is that these beers are made in the same Auckland mega breweries as Waikato Draught and Export—they just come out the other end with a fancier label.

Big brewers reinforce their ‘craft’ brands with massive marketing budgets, fueling campaigns that try to make you believe the beer is good before it even passes your lips. Small brewers can’t afford such things. They rely on drinkers to believe what’s on the label and take a leap of faith to give their beer a go.

So what happens when a new independent brewery with a marketing budget produces the characterless beer of a mega brewery, while still flying the craft beer banner? You get Stoke beers.

When I first heard the original Mac’s brewery in Nelson was reopening to brew beer again, this time under the name McCashin’s, I was excited. When Mac’s was in its heyday, creating some of the most respected craft brews in the country, I lived almost next door to the brewery but was underage. So I had hoped this move would mean I could taste a reflection of their previous brilliance.
But what McCashin’s has produced is a series of generic, mediocre beers, named after their colour so as not to confuse their target market: Gold, Amber and Dark.

Before I get ahead of myself, I should explain these beers. First, there is Stoke Gold, which seems aimed at the same demographic as Mac’s or Monteith’s Gold. Vaguely malty, golden in the glass and ‘easy drinking’—except from what I’ve tasted the beer has various brewing faults, throwing off any semblance of sessionability and making it actually worse than the beers it sets out to mimic.
Next in the range is Stoke Amber. I was given this beer blind recently at a BBQ. I found it thin-bodied, with a slightly toasty malt character similar to that of supermarket homebrew kits. Enough said.

Stoke Dark, unsurprisingly, looks dark in the glass. But what sets this beer apart from the rest of the range is that is has an obvious malt character, with coffee and cocoa flavours. Despite getting something right, it still manages to portray this flavour over a thin, watery body.
I take the faults in these beers more personally in this case, not just because they bear the name of my hometown, but also because McCashin’s is actively marketing the range as a craft beer.

If I was a newbie to craft beer and picked up a Stoke Gold for the first time, I’d think that it was equal to, if not worse than any of the other big name lagers out there—but cost me more.

That is where the danger lies. Branding sub-par beer as craft beer cheapens the image of every other craft beer on the shelf.
If you have any questions or comments about this week’s column or beer in general, please contact me at davethebeerguy@gmail.com or Tweet at me @davethebeerguy

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Comments (23)

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  1. Lee says:

    I keep hearing how bad this stuff is, I need to try it for myself. Can you get single bottles anywhere?

  2. Greig says:

    I like this column so much more when it focuses on all the great things about craft beer, and doesn’t dwell on the odd negative.

    For the record, I just had several pints in a row of Stoke Amber at House on Hood, and while it was a bit heavy on the crystal malt, it was perfectly decent, and I’ve had far worse beers from breweries much more beloved of the beer geeks.

  3. Dylan says:

    Some things just need to be said. The rise of half arsed, over priced, faux-craft beers is something that concerns me greatly.

  4. Simon says:

    All this wisdom from a Barman with an over inflated ego,
    maybe you could do a story about how some $15-per/hr barman who has one of the worst reputations around Wellington, Thinks he has enough “knowledge” to comment on an industry run by passionate, smart, hard working people.
    & how his narrow-minded blindness to how the industry really works, just makes him look even more pathetic to those who really know what is going on.
    Maybe you should look at volume’s sold by New Zealand’s “craft” brewers and realize that your little world is not the world that the rest of us in the industry live in.
    your making comments far above your pay rate & knowledge level. Just because you have drunk some different beers doesn’t make you an advocate to the industry.
    You would do well to curb your narrow-minded opinion before you find that you have peaked in the industry as a bar-man.
    I know your name is getting blacker by the week in this small industry, whereas your bosses is just getting better & better.
    Your now “that dave guy” who “talks shit about everyone”
    good luck in the future bloke, enjoy working as a barman until you are an old man.

    *I don’t work for or have even tried the Stoke beers, just an industry insider who is sick of your shit & will give it as hard to you as you give to others.

    Time to change your ways bloke……

  5. Simon says:

    Geez, hey man, I’m really sorry about all those thing I said last night. I got fired from my job as a prooof reader yesterday, then I found out you cant ge’t Rinek in Welleenton.

    And then I saw your colim Dave and it brung up all those hurtful memries from when you wouldnt go out wif me.

    Please forgiv me.

  6. Simon says:

    Hi. My name is Simon.

  7. Simon says:

    Listen here Bloke… I’m Simon – not you! Don’t put a fake name up here pretending to be someone your not. Bloke. I’m Simon! So fuck you.

  8. Stu as "Stu" says:

    Stupid IE6… submitting comments without me going anywhere near the submit button.

    Anyway…
    @Simon (the first one)… Have you ever heard the phrase “ad hominem”? If not, look it up. And while you are at it, look up the word “twatcock” too.

    @Davethebeerguy – I’m sure you know I’d say this but I really disagree with your definition of craft beer. I’m not sure what “assertive flavour” has to do with it. I love beer with subtle flavour too – why can’t this beer be “craft beer”? I’ve not got a definition of my own, yet, but it would be more along the lines of “Beer made for the sake of beer drinkers, and thank fuck we made a few dollars off it!”. It is certainly difficult to pin down.

    I’m getting closer and closer to the day where I am going to have to try these beers.

  9. Dominic says:

    Anyone depending on a term like “craft beer” to categorise products is going to be disappointed sooner or later. We could argue about batch sizes, quality of ingredients, adherence to approved ingredients, degree of mechanisation, fidelity to style, ability to score points in blind tastings, but any number of craft or non-craft beers will immediately defy our definition. The US Craft Brewers association just had to change their definition (based on capacity) as Sam Adams had outgrown it.

    I think that most of us judge something “craft” or not by our perception of the motivation of the brewers (and their corporate masters).

    My advice – accept that we use a term like “craft” for convenience and try to eliminate it from serious discussion.

  10. You better watch out Dave… with opinions like that you might not get to hand out Tui t-shirts at one of the pubs that the other Simon likes! Tho, I’m assuming you’re not too worried about someone that slams your opinions and then admits they haven’t even bothered to taste the beers you’re commenting on.

    In the end people that think about the beer they drink will make choices to drink what they think tastes good, while the majority of New Zealanders will probably think that a good review would be like the one this is excerpted from – “I just love the bottle and the labelling – particularly the use of the gold text.”

  11. Dylan says:

    I guess I should retract my previous comment, because on reflection it makes me sound like a twatcock as well.

    When I try and define ‘craft beer’ to anyone, my logic always seems to boil down to “I know it when I taste it,” which isn’t very helpful. Personally, if I try a beer and think to myself “I’d rather have a Macs/Monteith’s equvalent,” then I think something has gone wrong.

    @Stu – I kind of like your definition, but it makes me wonder: who gets to be defined as a legitimate ‘beer drinker’, and who doesn’t? I can see shades of Dom’s pragmatic logic in your argument, which I also like. Maybe I’ll start using this definition a little more.

  12. Greig says:

    Like it or not, I fear we will have to wrestle with that hoary old “how to define craft beer” problem eventually. Like Dominic, I’d rather we didn’t. I also like Stu’s definition, though I’d temper it slightly.

    For me (and me only – nobody has to agree), craft beer is all about the intent of the brewer. That said, part of that intent can be to make money. If you make something amazing, why is it unreasonable to expect to do well from that, financially (small market notwithstanding), and why should you be criticised so long as you’re still true to your original intent as a brewer with regard to the beer in question?

    If the intent is ONLY to make money, and the beer is just a “brand”, it ain’t craft beer. Now, how to read minds to determine if this is the case? ;)

    And yeah, Simon the Rude Fucker? You are most certainly a twatcock.

  13. Simon says:

    Awwww no – my work… damn you moderators!

  14. Stu as "Stu" says:

    This blog (http://blog.imhereforthehops.com/2011/01/best-beers-in-australia-and-new-zealand/) prompted a good load of discussion across the Australia about “what is craft beer”… Including this well thought out piece (http://www.brewsnews.com.au/2011/01/what-is-craft-beer/). There wasa few manic days of twitter action about it.

    My real opinion, which is posted on a subsequent blog at the same site (http://blog.imhereforthehops.com/2011/02/craft-beer/) are very close to what Dominic suggests above.

  15. smackdown says:

    i’m here for the hiphops

  16. Steve says:

    “That is where the danger lies. Branding sub-par beer as craft beer cheapens the image of every other craft beer on the shelf.”

    So what should they be branding them as?
    What else other than craft beer could this be called?

    So in your saying that its a misrepresentation about Stoke being “craft” what is the alternative?
    I also think that just because they aren’t big beers doesn’t change their craft status, you could easily name 10 other nz craft guys that are in the same boat, just not spending the advertising budget that Stoke are.

  17. Stu as "Stu" says:

    @Smackdown – you’re in the wrong web page.

  18. Dave says:

    Steve,
    Your first point is a good one, I was approaching the problem the wrong way round. The branding shouldn’t change to suit the beer, I hope the beer quality improves to match expectations created. When Stoke produces a great beer, I’ll be the first in line to buy it.
    My phrasing might have made it seem so, but I don’t believe size of a brewery has anything to do with the quality of their beer or their ‘craft’ status. Many huge breweries are creating great beers with batch sizes as large as 200,000L. Stoke’s brew length is 10,000L – almost the same as Tuatara brewery. And Tuatara consistently manage to make some of the best beers in the country.

  19. Dave says:

    Unless you mean big in the sense of the beer itself, where I’d also agree entirely. Subtlety is a far harder craft to master, compared throwing 20g/L of hops in your beer.

  20. smackdown says:

    who capitalised my name huh

    was it you stu

    or was it “stu”

    fess up

  21. Stu as "Stu" says:

    Wasn’t me.

    Nor me.

    Must have been an auto-capitalisation thing.

    Yeh, you’re probably right.

    I generally am…

    That’s what you think.

  22. Joseph says:

    “Stoke’s brew length is 10,000L – almost the same as Tuatara brewery. ”

    Last I checked Tuatara had a 4,000L Brew length.

  23. Dave says:

    True, brew length is the wrong term. I meant they can fit two brews in their 9000L fermenters, my bad.

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