Craft Beer Evolution: It’s Time To Put ‘No Crap On Tap’ To Bed…

Craft beer promoters love their slogans. Slapped onto bumper stickers, t-shirts, and bottle coozies, they help define the narrative for the craft beer movement. Whether they be a fabricated quote never uttered by a founding father or a call to support your local brewery, such sloganeering is often harmless if not particularly clever. There is one craft beer catch phrase that I wish disappeared entirely: no crap on tap.

This particular aphorism may be older than the original New Albion Ale, having appeared in countless advertisements, bumper stickers, t-shirts, and other schwag. I first recall seeing it on a bumper sticker at the Falling Rock Tap House in Denver during one of my first Great American Beer Festival visits. I recall chucking at it, all the while feeling a touch superior compared to the unenlightened folks drinking lesser lagers that night in the Mile High City. As I started to travel more, I started to notice the slogan popping up in bars, tap rooms, and breweries around the country, from San Diego to Tampa.

As with a catchy summer pop song that grabs your attention from the first beats but whose omnipresence then drives you crazy, this slogan provokes a particularly negative response in me. At its core, the No Crap on Tap motto suggests that any non-craft beer is undrinkable garbage. Let’s not kid ourselves, the big brewers make beers of a consistent and technical quality that few if any craft brewers will ever attain.

I remember gasps of horror at one BeerAdvocate festival when a very well-respected brewer told panel attendees that the beer he most often drank after a long shift was Budweiser. He then politely attempted to disabuse audience members of their misconceptions of macro products as being of inferior quality. It remains one of my favorite moments from these events.

In the past year, I have heard people toss craft beer pioneers, such as Boston Beer and Sierra Nevada, into the category of “crap” beers. Such incoherent mumblings, which I heard a few times during the recent Craft Brewers Conference, are the surest sign you’re dealing with either a crazy person or an insufferable beer nerd.

I loathe the clannish air of superiority that underlies such boasts. Craft brewers and the legions of bar owners, distributors, retailers, and fans supporting them have achieved amazing things in the last thirty years. They have created a previously unknown beer and flavor culture in the United States that is now spreading throughout the world. They have built strong businesses, employed thousands of enthusiastic workers, and rejuvenated a flagging beer industry set on rendering itself irrelevant.

With all of its successes, this nation of craft beer should not define itself through its larger corporate rivals. Craft beer is about more than simply presenting an alternative to the big brewers. In focusing on a negative proposition, craft brewers waste energy casting macro beers as some sort of enemy. Craft beer is about more than the big guys. As its success grows, craft beer nation needs to stop pretending they aren’t major players themselves now.

My aversion to this slogan does not overlook the tough and sometimes questionable tactics employed by the big guys in competing against smaller craft players. Brewers should call out any business, whether macro or micro, for engaging in corrupt practices. But casting macro beers as crap, shit, or otherwise undrinkable is simply juvenile mudslinging.

It’s time for a new generation of craft beer slogans, focused on promoting the positive characteristics the industry symbolizes. Or at least something more clever than rhyming crap and tap.

–Article appeared in Issue 68 of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

6 Responses

  1. I would agree heartily with this sentiment – I saw how many people recently made similar wisecracks about the Project Twelve “sampler” being marketed by A-B; one Tweet in particular noted that “we would now have three more crappy beers to drink.”

    I cautioned that we might be best to at least TASTE the beers before passing final judgement. It’s important to remember that these brewmasters have been tasked to create those beers based on very specific scale, consistency, ingredient and production parameters, and as a result, these beers might be the best they could achieve under the circumstances. Of course, they might brew up something very different in their own basement, but that was not the assignment here.

  2. The first thing I think about is http://nocrapbeer.com/, which happens to be the web URL for the Craft Beer Cellar. An appalling site address for what is a successfull beer store in MA. I too agree that we have to stop the juvenile stuff and begin to learn more about beer before we bash it for no reason. I also respect your wording in the title. While the craft beer industry is ramping up year after year, it is nothing “Revolutionary” but its a fast “Evolution”. I think the people using those terms you listed above are in “Revolutionary” mode, as if their needs to be some competition between macro and micro.

  3. Jerry McMahan

    Amen. Slamming Bud seems juvenile or misinformed but dissing Sierra Nevada is just insane. They are still making some of the world’s best beers, in fact getting better as they get bigger.

    And no one with functioning taste buds can deny that some ‘craft’ beer is most definitely crap. The big boys may be a little uninspired but that bottle of Bud won’t be flat, or a bottle bomb, or be unintentionally soured or oxidized to death.

  4. It’s not a surprise, to your point, that Stone hired someone from A-B as their brewmaster when they were facing consistency/quality issues due to growing massively…

  5. Thomas Barnes

    While dissing the quality of flagship macrobrewery products is unfair, “No crap on tap” is still a good sentiment for any craft beer bar to follow. Not all microbrew is good and not all bars treat their beer with the respect it deserves.

    There are “good beer bars” I will not patronize because they’re terrible about serving old beer, serving beer at the wrong temperature, don’t clean or rinse their lines properly, and/or have uninteresting or low-quality beer selection.

  6. Sorry but if it comes from a macro, IT’S CRAP. Adjuncts do not make good beer! i couldn’t care less about consistency, especially if it’s consistent crap. Yellow fizzy “lagers” and “lite beer” are lowest common denominator when you don’t care what you’re drinking you just want to down a few and get a cheap quick buzz. If you cost cut and micro-manage for the sake of “consistency” and mass-production, it gets boring REALLY fast and the beer loses its character. One of the little thrills of craft beer is it’s made by people and not automated on a computer, so there may be subtle nuances of taste difference between batches.

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