The new schism between two fundamentally different types of beer began to appear towards the end of the 20th century and lies between beers made to “industrial” specifications and those considered more authentic, or “craft”. While this distinction is key to understanding beer today, neither of these terms is easy to define beyond a rough outline.
From the very beginnings of commercial brewing, when brews were made on farmhouse stoves to ferment in the outhouse before selling to other villagers, brewers have been caught between supplying two conflicting demands – to make beer that is good enough to savour, while being cheap enough to afford.
Brewing technology has been improving non-stop since ancient times but the wholesale industrialisation of the beer-making seen today began to emerge in Europe after the Second World War, as US-inspired brewing methods and business models took root.
The re-emergence of interest in the more complex, fuller-flavoured beers that are now variously referred to as ‘traditional’, ‘heritage’, ‘artisanal’, ‘craft’ or ‘special’ began in the 1970s for a variety of unconnected reasons, and blossomed with the arrival of the internet and social media in the early 21st century.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, brewing in Europe had reached in interesting position whereby industrial brewers were beginning to realise that in order for beer to maintain its place in the alcoholic beverage market, they needed craft brewers to make beer sexy, while craft brewers were beginning to realise that in order to sell their beers in the market they needed the collaboration of industrial brewers. Post-COVID, it will be interesting to see how that works.