Craft Beer and Indie Rock, a comparative study in three parts

Part 1: Definition

Don’t worry, this won’t be another futile attempt to change the definition of craft beer or to come up with a new and better one. It is one of those “it’s done, deal with it” things: you may not like it but things aren’t going to change anytime soon. The makers of craft beer coined the term and kept using it so who are we to suddenly demand that it changes. This discussion only takes place within a very small segment of the beer drinking public anyway. For the more casual drinker, ‘craft’ means that it is beer more to their liking, beer that is not lager or mass-produced beer. It is alternative to these. Here in the Netherlands Het Uiltje, Kompaan and most of all Jopen use the term everywhere and Peter van der Arend named his latest bar Craft & Draft. And who I am to go against these great men’s words. If Jopen suddenly decides that “you know, that Martijn guy from the Dutch Beer Pages makes a valid point, let’s change all our labels!” something is very wrong in this world.

I was working on some comparisons between indie rock music and craft beer. Both are alternative cultural exploits that have more similarities than you might think at first. I am sure I can make the comparison with tons of other art forms, but indie rock and beer are two of my areas of expertise, not pottery, jam making or the naming of hobos (if you got this cultural reference you are my new best friend and I will buy you a beer). The next two chapters will about the brewer / artist, and about the beer drinker / music lover and will be posted in the coming weeks.

But first, what does indie rock actually mean?

The term was already used in the 1950’s to describe the smaller record labels who fought to get their singles on the charts and sold. It was the only way to survive against the majors like RCA. In the late 70’s the term independent became more synonymous with do punk rock Do-It-Yourself mentality, something that has remained, even within craft brewing.

Just give me Indie Rock!

In the 1980’s this changed and the term became to mean the music they produced. This was the time that it meant something when you said you were an indie rock fan. The term changed from an economic one to a cultural description. If you met someone and said you liked indie rock, it meant the changes were that he or she liked the Smiths, R.E.M., Dinosaur JR and later Pavement, Built to Spill or the Strokes. But the chances were also that he or she liked the Chemical Brothers, Orbital and Underworld, and maybe even Arrested Development or other fringe hip-hop bands. Dinosaur JR and Built to Spill are good examples of bands who signed with major record labels without changing their music. The majors saw that now there was money to be made with these acts. In iTunes it is a category, even if the biggest record label in the world released it.

The definition of craft beer has changed too. No longer does it solely means artisanal made beer. More and more a lover of craft beer likes alternative beer, beer that is outside of the mainstream, the stuff that doesn’t promote FIFA or your national football championship. Does this mean small? Not immediately, but often they make and sell less than the ‘major’ breweries, just like Death Cab for Cutie will never sell the amount of albums Justin Moron or Rihanna sells. To say you like craft beer means you prefer IPA’s, Russian Stouts and saisons. It also means you love styles that are completely new or ancient like gose or gruit beers.

Both ‘Indie rock’ and ‘craft beer’ have been around for a while now. Some are questioning the right use of these terms. But it’s not the words that change, it’s what they mean, what they represent. From a pure technical dictionary definition it has taken on new meaning, a meaning that now represents a culture and an art form.

So now that we got that out of the way, stay tuned the coming weeks for the other parts in the series where I look at other comparisons.


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