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Jul 5, 2013 02:47 AM

Consumer Reports rates craft beer

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  1. can't say I can argue with the Times -- somehow I'm just not seeing how a company that does **so well** at helping us all sort out cars and washing machines *objectively* is going to be all that hot at rating something that's purely *subjective*.

    and no, nothing made by AB could ever qualify as "craft".

    But it does mark how commonplace craft beers have become....something I don't think many people ever dreamed would happen back in the early 80s.

    25 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      "Craft" is an interesting term. The Brewers Association defines it largely in terms of a brewery's independence, while industry statistics commonly include such products as Shiner Bock, Blue Moon and Shock Top in the craft category.

      Of course, people here will likely lean towards the BA's definition, although it is clearly problematic in its own way.

      1. re: Jim Dorsch

        Shiner is also classified as craft by BA.

        I agree with you that craft is an interesting/tricky/sensitive/etc term.

        1. re: Jim Dorsch

          while I agree that the term is rather, um, gelatinous -- sorry, I'm just not buying that anything made tens of thousands of gallons at a time by a division of an immense multinational and available at bargain prices at every Walmart and 7-11 in the country fits *any* definition of the word "craft".

          And yes, this applies to Sam Adams, too -- I really like their beers, but their sheer size leaves them out of the craft producer by my definition.

          1. re: sunshine842

            Agreed on your first point.

            I view Sam Adams as craft because: 1. Boston Lager is a well-made beer with character. 2. Boston Beer constantly experiments and puts out new beers in many styles.

            That's not to say I don't respect your viewpoint. We all look at things differently.

            1. re: Jim Dorsch

              don't get me wrong -- as I said, I really like Sam Adams, and I agree with you that it's well-made beer, and we do buy it both at home and when out, and I love that they do pay attention to seasonality.

              Sizewise, though -- annual sales, nationwide distribution, etc. -- they're no longer micro.

                1. re: Jim Dorsch

                  I agree with Jim.
                  In the end, the craft is reflected in what's in the glass, whether the brewer is large or small.

                  Boston Brewing started small and grew partly because of savvy marketing, but largely because they made a good, dependable product and (maybe most importantly)
                  managed to maintain a high standard of quality despite their massive growth.
                  The size of the brewery is irrelevant, if the product is good. And consumers are finally, slowly beginning to realize that while "small" and "local" are often better, those attributes certainly aren't always a guarantee of better quality.
                  Even some of the most hard-core beer geeks I know have admitted that in some cases, "small" & "local" can also be looked at as a consumer warning. LOL.

                  1. re: The Professor

                    let me try again.

                    Craft, to me, by definition means small and with limited distribution. That's *my* definition. It also involves a product made by someone for whom that product is their passion...craft beer, craft bakery, etc -- they truly care about making their product the best they possibly can make.

                    As Boston Beer so ably shows, "big and industrial" doesn't necessarily mean "chemical and horrid" (although that's true more often than not, unfortunately)...

                    ....any more than "small and local" means "tasty and ethereal".

                    e.g., there was a very short-lived small-scale brewery in Florida some years ago called Damm (as in Damm fine beer). It was more notable because of its cobalt-blue bottles than its beer....which was more suited to cleaning out sewage pipes than to drinking. Damm wasn't craft beer -- it was crummy beer put out to take advantage (even back in the early 90s) of the growing interest in non-mass-market beers.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      Fortunately for you, you obviously never experienced Orbit Beer. Brewed on the space coast of Florida. I think they used the residual alcohol from the captured V2 rockets.

                      2 or 3 cans would send you into orbit for sure. ABC generic beer in steel cans tasted better and was cheaper. $3.79 a case versus $3.96 per case.

                      1. re: INDIANRIVERFL

                        I seem to recall that Damm was from Ft. Pierce. It was bad enough.

                      2. re: sunshine842

                        You're not doing any better.

                        Before the invention of the marketing term, "craft beer", people would use the term "microbrew". The problem is "microbrewery" as a term of art only refers to the quantity of beer produced. All the categorizations of breweries are related to the volume of their output. I.e. you could have a terrible brewery making beer in small enough quantities that it could be called a microbrewery, but the name indicates nothing about what you can expect flavor-wise.

                        Similarly a brewery like Sierra Nevada produces a large enough volume of beer that they can't be called a microbrewery, though their beer is obviously in a different league flavor-wise than something like Budweiser.

                        "Craft beer" as a marketing term is meant to convey that the beer in question is not industrial light lager, and I'd say it's a pretty misleading term since it implies that there's no skill (or craft) involved in making industrial light lager. Obviously that's not true when Stone hires a guy from AB to help them produce their craft beers in large quantities.

                        I think it's a cheap shot to say that the brewers who make industrial light lagers don't care about making their product the best. It may not be to your taste, or mine, but you can't deny that the ability to produce beer at that scale with that consistency of flavor comes from people who do care about what they do.

                        If there was no validity at all to the style then the BJCP wouldn't have a categorization for these light lagers, and they wouldn't be included in beer competitions.

                        To me the bigger sin committed by Consumer Reports is the one of lumping all these beers together and rating them next to one another irrespective of style. As TombstoneShadow pointed out below, how can you compare Stone IPA to Brooklyn Lager when they are so different?

                        1. re: Josh

                          I looked up "craft" in the dictionary. The first definition refers to crafting by hand, which is a stretch even in a very small brewery. The second definition is "a skilled activity or profession", which has nothing to do with the size of a facility.

                          I think "craft" is useful as a fuzzy term, but it will never quite fill the bill.

                          I don't know who came up with this term. At the dawn of the era people sometimes use the term "boutique brewery", and then "microbrewery" came to the fore. It wasn't long before "micro" didn't fit so well, and now we have "nanobreweries".

                          Was there ever a term for the "craft" wineries that started to appear in the 1960s? I think people just call them wineries.

                          1. re: Jim Dorsch

                            My definition of whether something is a craft beer is that after three or four I really don't care.

                            That sounds like a lame joke, and it is, but there's a seriousness behind it too. Sierra Nevada was a huge force in starting the craft beer industry in the US, and just because they've gotten big, should we revoke their craft beer status? Because of them I can go into just about any restaurant or bar in the country and get a perfectly good beer.

                            Things like chili and barbecue have suffered from the imposition of standards and contest rules and the like. I don't give a damn if the set designer won last year's Tony award, I care if I enjoyed the play.

                            1. re: Jim Dorsch

                              Nano is another term based on production volume. Forgot the number exactly, but it's less than micro.

                              A lot of people objected to the craft beer label for the reasons you noted. Unfortunately it's the term that stuck.

                              Another good example, like Sierra, is Chimay. They produce a lot of beer, does that make their product somehow lesser?

                              1. re: Josh

                                I have never understood why beer nerds get so worked up over terms like micro or craft. They're just marketing terms and like all marketing terms they are meant to move product.

                                If the beer is good drink it, who cares what they market it as.

                                I've also never understood the reverence or anger directed at best of lists. It is all arbitrary

                                1. re: MVNYC

                                  I don't know if it's the terms themselves so much as the cynical use of them when unwarranted (e.g. Blue Moon or Shock Top being labeled "craft", which comes across as deceptive).

                                  By the same token I often find it funny when I drink something like canned Heineken and get people saying "I thought you only liked microbrew?" Canned Heineken is delicious.

                                  1. re: Josh

                                    Yeah, I roll my eyes when I hear Blue Moon as craft but it doesn't upset me. The people who drink it are not beer afficianados anyway and mostly do not like other "bitte beers". It is clearly aimed at people who like sweet drinks. What I also find amusing is how beer nerds get their panties in a bunch over what to label beers based on sales volume.

                                    Sierra Nevada makes good beer, do I care if its craft, micro, macro or nano? Not in the slightest.

                                  2. re: MVNYC

                                    "Micro" was probably used by outside observers before it became a marketing term. I expect "craft" came from inside the industry, or was very quickly spun.

                                    1. re: Jim Dorsch

                                      Vince Cottone thinks he may have first used the "craft beer" term in his “Good Beer Guide: Brewers and Pubs of the Pacific Northwest” (see for more).

                                      There was a 1987 AP article on Summit in MN which called them "...Minnesota's only small "craft" brewery..." and, interestingly, a 1988 New York Times article state that "...a subset of micro-brewing, the craft brewer is defined as one producing fewer than 3,000 barrels a year."

                              2. re: Josh

                                I said way back there that it was *my* definition.


                                1. re: Josh

                                  Very well articulated, Josh. You've summed it up perfectly and I couldn't agree more.

                                  I've always thought that "artisanal" was a better descriptive for the smaller brewer. But as both you and Jim point out, even that becomes fuzzy when a small brewery grows to become a large one.

                                  I think that the BA differentiates the small guys with a defining label in order to give the craft beers more caché. And that's fine, although in the end it will always simply boil down to "good" beer and "not good" beer. Seems like that is already becoming the perception, and I'm pretty sure it will continue in that direction if for no other reason than the fact that "good" beer is slowly but surely becoming more mainstream.

                                  1. re: Josh

                                    I agree that it's important to note the quality-control skills of the big guys. They brew beer to taste exactly the same every time, with flavor stability. Never mind infection or other major brewing mistakes; these beers are brewed to exact flavor specifications. There is certainly precision and skill involved, regardless of whether the end result happens to be my/your preference. (BTW, it's almost NEVER my preference, unless it's 9am on college football Saturday, and tomato juice is involved.)

                                    "Micro" is such a funny term for me - it gives me such 90's nostalgia! (although the BA still uses an active definition). Yes there are "nano's" now, which is usually glorified homebrewing by someone who went to the effort to get licensed. And yes, these terms define quantity, not quality.

                                    And sure most new brewers have passion and a desire to add their own unique creation into this special tradition. But there are also small guys that see brewing as a cool new industry in which to make it big (hahaha).

                                    Quality simply can't be defined by size. However, since consumers have begun to equate small with quality, you naturally see the big guys labeling their craft-y beers with misleading labels. This, to me, is one of the biggest issues and concerns of the craft discussion. Garrett Oliver made an excellent point on this note: that to determine whether beer is "craft" or "craft-y", investigate whether there is a brewmaster, or simply money at the top. Brooklyn has one; Stone has one; Russian River has one; Stella....oops. But even that method is imprecise...The Blue Moon folks have a cute lil ole writeup on their brewmaster and his team.

                                    1. re: jillytomato

                                      I have mentioned it before on these boards, but I think it bears repeating here given the context. When I was a beer writer I got invited to a press unveiling of Miller's "craft" light beers (they were awful, which I'm sure comes as no surprise). What blew my mind though was talking to their brewmaster, who told me that they have a 10 bbl pilot system they use for brewing stuff like Russian imperial stout, double IPAs, etc. and they just hand the bottles out at local spots near the brewery. So I'm sure many of these guys really love to brew, but their mission is to make a specific kind of blandness. Seems unfulfilling to me, but different strokes, right?

                                      1. re: Josh

                                        I could see how a brewer could find fulfillment at a large company, in a professional way. I'm sure they have interesting technical issues to deal with, for example. On the other hand, many probably wind up as shift brewers, just cranking out production (which could also occur at a smaller brewery).

                                        I think some brewers are pretty happy to have emerged from large companies, such as this one.

                      3. I think this is good news and it's pretty disappointing to see sniping from people on BA about it. Obviously they're going to review beers that their readers can go buy, so no they're not going to worship at the altar of Dark Lord.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Josh

                          I used to post on BA from time to time, but tired of the contentiousness and stopped sharing my thoughts there.

                        2. From the point of view of public recognition, it seems like good news for the craft brewing industry. All the pointless pissing and moaning from the BA folks is not that surprising. I've often had the impression that they would be happiest if all their favorites were a secret held by their club and required passing a test before consumption. The fact that they would all go out of business never occurs to them.

                          That said, while I like a number of CR's choices, I tend to drink the locally made craft beers here rather than ones bottled and shipped thousands of miles to me. I'll drink locally when traveling and hope to try more of them on their own ground.

                          1. While I appreciate any blind tasting, the obvious problem with this is that they are combining significantly different beer varieties into the same tasting...

                            Putting wheat beers and imperial IPAs into the same tasting makes about as much sense as putting moscato d'asti and port in the same tasting, then ranking them against each other.

                            1 Reply
                            1. Consumer Reports.
                              Bless their hearts.
                              Rating "craft beer" is kind of like them trying to rate wine (bhwaaahahahwhawha)

                              Uhm. Yeah. Carry on with that.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: pedalfaster


                                If it gets a few people to set down the crappy beer and try the good (or at least better) stuff, the magazine has more than done its duty.