Last week saw an informal meeting of beer industry identities in Auckland.

Attended by the likes of Moa Brewing Co, 8 Wired, Tuatara, Stoke, Middlemiss Brewing and Brother’s Brewing, as well as representatives from the Society for Beer Advocates and the Brewer’s Association, topics up for discussion included marketing beer by style and the potential for a craft beer ‘seal of approval’ label.

Josh Scott, Moa Brewing Company founder, called the meeting and set the objective for the session: defining craft beer.

According to Scott, consumers are being “misled” by large breweries – such as Lion, DB and Independent Liquor – who are calling some of their product ‘craft’, even though, in his eyes, it is nothing of the sort.

“When I started up there was passion and integrity whereas now with the big boys it’s just about crunching numbers and mass production,” he says. “There used to be a genuine story behind the brewer and the process and that’s what people think craft beer is I think. Not big breweries inventing stories to try and fool consumers about what they are.”

While there was no consensus at the end of the night as to a working definition of the term ‘craft beer’, there was agreement that beer consumers deserve to be better educated about the processes by which different craft beers are brewed.

On one side of the table, Ben Middlemiss put forward that the definition of craft beer had much to do with the size of a brewing operation, i.e. the bigger the brewery the less ‘craft’ it is likely to be.

“A craft brewer pours himself into the project heart and soul and cares about the product all the way to the consumer’s glass and you definitely don’t get that with the big boys out there,” he says. “They’re a beer factory. They don’t brew, they push buttons.”

Jenny Cameron, at the forum representing the Brewer’s Association of New Zealand and Australia – an organisation funded by Lion, DB and several larger Australian breweries – disagreed that larger breweries could not make quality craft beer.

Cameron did however suggest that the beer industry could take some cues from the wine industry with regards to marketing by category rather than by brand.

Andrew Larsen of central Auckland brewbar Brothers Brewery suggested that a craft beer organisation could be worth creating. He also suggested that membership could be restricted to those brands that met certain brewing criteria.

Though as to what those criteria might be is difficult. At the recent CBIA conference in Melbourne, Brooklyn Brewery’s Eric Ottaway warned against using size as a definition for ‘craft’ – as he said during his presentation, it’s as if the association is punishing a brand for becoming popular, once a brewery hits a certain size “that’s it, you can’t be in the club anymore”.

Moa’s Josh Scott says that there were between 70 to 100 ‘craft’ brewers in New Zealand.

None of the larger breweries accepted the invitation to attend the forum.

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