Have you seen the sex scene in “Blade Runner?” In the moments before Harrison Ford kisses his co-star Sean Young against a window pane, there are a series of close-up shots of Young’s face. The intimacy of the camera—the way it notices her soft cheeks, her strands of flyaway hair—humanizes her, induces a kind of empathy and attraction in the viewer that simulates Ford’s, and that hopefully overcomes the knowledge that she is an android. She is, in those moments, “human”, in the adjectival form.  

That’s good filmmaking. It makes you want to sleep with a robot, or, at the very least, confuses your understanding of what a robot is.

Sometimes, I have a similar confusion about what makes a craft beer “craft.” On Tuesday, it was National Beer Day, and I saw that Chicago’s Goose Island Brewery had posted a Forbes article titled “The 13 Best Craft Beers in America.” The 13 craft beers were chosen by Matt Canning (the beer concierge at Hotel Vermont) and among them is Goose Island’s Bourbon Country Stout. “‘The standard for all barrel aged stouts,’ Canning wrote. ‘Chocolate, caramel, and smoke on the nose—and rich oak from the barrels on the finish.’”

But does Bourbon County Stout deserve a place on Canning’s list? Based on his description of the flavor, it seems so. However, in March of 2011, the macro-brewing company Anheuser-Busch purchased Goose Island, and thus, by the definition put forth by the Brewer’s Association, which states that a craft brewery must be small and independent, Goose Island is technically no longer a craft brewery.

Can a non-craft brewery make craft beer? While it may be owned by the industrial brewers, Goose Island consistently produces delicious beer. Goose Island’s inclusion among the list makes the implicit argument that craft beer is about taste, and taste alone. 

Goose Island’s CEO and founder John Hall stands by that argument. “‘Goose Island is a craft beer, period,’” he stated to time magazine in an August of 2013 article that questioned the status of Goose Island’s craft identity. The article explains that smaller, independently owned craft breweries initiated the questioning because they saw Goose Island as a threat to the meaning of the word “craft”. 

“‘The so-called definition of craft beer has evolved over the years,’” Hall continued. ‘“Both the brewery size and ingredients have been changed. I believe the beer drinkers are the ones who truly decide what is a craft beer or isn’t.’”
When time went to the Brewer’s Association for comment, Julia Herz, the Brewers Association’s craft beer program director, agreed with Hall, saying that the Brewer’s Association does not have a hard and fast definition for what craft beer is (unlike the outline it has for what a craft brewery is). Like Hall, she leaves it up to beer drinkers to make the decision.

I’m a beer drinker. But I hope you aren’t looking for an answer from me, because I don’t have one. Yes, I think a lot about what it means to be craft beer, and yes, taste is certainly something that I consider highly important—haven’t you noticed my comical propensity for hyper-specific flavor reviews? (Haven’t you made fun of them?)

But I’m also a romantic who likes to meet her brewer. I’ve been made fun of for that, too. This is part of my consideration when I think about that scene in “Blade Runner,” when I think about Bourbon Country Stout as a kind of android beer: ostensibly and empirically faithful to a certain definition, but still, lacking something essential and untraceable. 

I guess that would be the “human-ness” of the beer, which, I suppose, signifies that feeling of satisfaction you get from drinking something that was made nearby, made by hand, made by people that you can put a face to, that have a story.

And yes, “craft” is conflated often with “local,” and I know that is incorrect. I remember drinking Brooklyn Lager at a pub in London and thinking that it tasted delicious, even a thousand miles from where it came from. Stone Brewery is one my favorite breweries and it is located in Southern California, and they make 213,277 barrels of beer a year (for reference, that is nearly as much as the state of Maine produces annually).

And yes, I keep saying “and yes.” It’s the sound a person makes when she wants to be both a certain kind of consumer and a certain kind of connoisseur.