Has SIBA taken ownership of “craft beer”?

With Tuesday’s news that the Society of Independent Brewers (SIBA) is to offer its members the accreditation of ‘British craft brewer’ – ostensibly in an attempt to reclaim the ‘C’ word from ‘big beer’ – has it has committed the same act of linguistic appropriation the macros stand accused of?

While it’s welcome that someone, anyone, has seized the initiative following the United Craft Brewers (UCB) demise, the irony of being obliged to pay a fee in order to be rubber-stamped as a craft brewer hasn’t gone unnoticed. Also, what of those craft breweries (as commonly understood) that are not SIBA members? Are we really to believe that McMullen’s, for example, is a craft brewer whereas Brewdog, Buxton and Cloudwater, breweries that have come to epitomise what we understand to be craft breweries, are not?

It is clear that ownership must be a criterion when it comes to defining craft beer, which is not to say I won’t put Lagunitas IPA to my face with gusto. Not all craft beer is good, and not all macro beer is bad. It remains to be seen whether the SIBA accreditation has any meaningful impact, either in a bump in its membership or in increased sales for member breweries, which is clearly its primary motivation (and why not? SIBA is a trade association after all). That said, it is to be hoped it acts as a catalyst in bringing the wider beer community together in arriving at a meaningful definition of UK craft beer that transcends narrow concerns. I fear, however, that the reasons those founding members of the UCB had for creating an alternative organisation rather than sign up to SIBA remain, so the end game remains frustratingly murky. Beer writer, and good friend of mine, Matt Curtis tweeted his disappointment at what he perceived to be the negativity surrounding SIBA’s announcement, but I feel the actions of a trade association deserve to be scrutinised by the wider beer community. Regardless, SIBA has wrestled the initiative on the great ‘C’ word debate from Brewdog and the other UCB founding members, and you have to give them credit for what is a very bold move.

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