Small Brewers Show How Craft Principles Reshape The Economy

Small Brewers Show How Craft Principles Reshape The Economy

Our economy currently relies heavily on unsustainable industrial principles of mass scale, never-ending growth and throwaway consumerism. The transition to a sustainable economy, then, requires a shift in how we think about production.

In contrast to industrial production, craft production prioritizes local production, human skill and excellence. Although craft principles were cast aside as industries were modern, a revival is taking place. Examples of craft revival are visible in many sectors, ranging from butchering to textile production, but one of the most illustrative examples comes from the booming craft beer sector.

In the Netherlands, about 1,000 breweries existed at the beginning of the 19th century. Following the industrial revolution, there was a dramatic switch to the mass production of one beer style: pilsner. Only 13 breweries, all now using industrial principles of production, remain by 1980 and 90% of the market was controlled by the four largest players. But since then, a revival of craft production has fueled a dramatic resurgence of the brewery population. Today, there are well over 300 breweries again.

The Netherlands is not the only country where craft brewing has been revive. In 11 of the biggest beer producing nations, the number of breweries has grown by a factor of five in recent decades. If we exclude Belgium and Germany, where industrialization had less of an effect on the traditional brewing population, the factor is even greater, 23. The US brewing population, for instance, grew from a mere 89 craft breweries in 1978 to well over 6,000 today.

Economy Challenge

Part of this dramatic craft renaissance is explained by a change in demand. Fueled by nostalgia and an anti-mass production sentiment, the market demand for local, authentic products is growing, most notably in the food industry.

Yet demand does not change in isolation. It requires producers that are willing and able to follow alternative production principles and educate consumers. A recent study of the Dutch beer brewing industry found that the increasing success of the craft movement was in large part driven by a growing and eclectic group of beer enthusiasts that devoted themselves to becoming brew masters, regenerate craft brewing techniques and revived a declining industry in the process. The craft beer revival shows that a transition away from unsustainable, industrial production is possible and desirable.

But these crafty change-makers face challenges. The main issue for any incipient craft movement is to shake off the idea that craft is an outdated mode of production, strictly adhering to historic methods and recipes.

Craft Beer Revolution Economy

The craft beer revolution, for example, was not possible in places such as Germany and Belgium, which have maintained historic beer brewing traditions. There, breweries tend to strictly follow narrow interpretations of what traditional craft production means and have expectations about how and where craft skill should be apply, such as following age-old community specific recipes. This conception of craft constrains innovation and indeed both countries lack the rich innovative craft brewing scene that has developed elsewhere.

Successful craft movements, on the other hand, smartly harness the power of localism, authenticity and nostalgia without getting stuck in the past. This attitude was clearly express by one Dutch brewer:

I have always been bother by the false romanticism that beer lovers like to hear and the ordinary reality of beer brewing. Beer brewing is a craft. You write your own recipes. There is no such thing as old recipes. All beers that were brew 100 years ago are disgusting.

This is an extreme opinion, generally traditions are navigate more respectfully. Through craft, brewers stress their traditional, independent background while experimenting and making entirely new beers. It’s important to open up the definition of craft and to find a productive balance between tradition and innovation.


Another challenge for the modern craft movement is the reality that any organization can be bought. Although initially craft brewers were able to build a separate market for craft beer and resist the lure of big money, incumbent industrial brewers are now taking over successful craft breweries at increasing speed.

In the Netherlands, one of the most successful craft breweries, De Molen in Bodegraven, has recently been acquire by Bavaria, one of the four large incumbent brewers. Bavaria also owns the Dutch abbey brewery, De Koningshoeven, known for its authentic Trappist beer, while Heineken acquired the oldest still running brewery, Brand, in the early 2000s. This signals a new era of consolidation and raises questions about the long-term resilience of the craft movement.

There is more to this than simple reconcentration of market power: businesses are showing an interest in heritage. This is because consumers increasingly look for authenticity. The past delivers an impression of this, shrouded as it is in a mystical aura of nostalgia. Companies therefore use the past as a coat of paint, giving their products an authentic feel. What businesses need, the past provides.

And companies that lack longevity themselves can buy it. New manufacturers regularly purchase older businesses to root their products further into the past, branding their newly bought tradition with slogans such as since 1820. For the same reason, companies are buying their way into craft. They capitalize on the market’s growing thirst for authenticity by creating the impression of craft production using savvy advertising. Big business appears to engage in craft-washing. They want the craft brand but whether they want craft values is another question.

A New Economy

This is key because the practices and values of craftsmanship correspond well with the requirements for a sustainable economy. If we can redefine craftsmanship in a form that is built for the future, instead of being simply a nostalgic eulogy to the past, we can create an economy base on sustainability, durability and excellence.

Craft could provide the means and values for a sustainable society, both socially and environmentally. In the US, the craft beer boom led to a dramatic increase. In employment during a time that beer consumption declined. And producing fewer, better, things can have environmental benefits over mass-produced products with inherently short life cycles. Craft skills support important practices of recycling and repairing.

In short, an updated notion of craftsmanship provides the architecture needed for a sustainable, innovative economy. Entrepreneurs of the future are those that redefine our relationship with materials. They are the craftspeople who make beer out of stale bread. Leather from leftover fruit or who fashion garments from fish skin.

Whether these craft principles will shape the new economy largely depends on modern corporations. Truly infusing them into their organizations and going beyond craft-washing. Corporate success is historically based on choices that contradict craft principles. Which means that corporations are often at a loss when it comes to meaningfully enacting any of these ideas.

This likely means that a transition has to be sustain from the bottom. In the microbreweries, urban gardens, maker spaces and repair cafes. The people in these spaces are not just making. They are creating the mentality needed for a sustainable economy. We need more makers, not managers.

Revaluating Craft In Australia And India Social And Economic Value

Revaluating Craft In Australia And India Social And Economic Value

Having returned recently from a 20 days study-tour plus indigo craft workshop in India. I have been pondering the social and economic value societies assign to craft. I ask, how is craft valued in Australia versus in India?

Defining Craft

The first issue is defining what craft is. One of the principles of design anthropology that I teach is to not make distinctions between art, craft, and design. As it imposes a biased hierarchy on creative expression, with art at the top, design in the middle. And craft at the bottom, that is not universal to all cultures.

Laura Morelli provides an exceptional and short overview of the historical break of art away. From craft in the Renaissance period and its implications for non-Western art design craft.

Yet, the term craft exists and the hierarchy among the visual arts has significant implications. In relationship to patronage, funding, and government policy for craft practices. The Merriam-Webster dictionary provides the most basic definition:

an activity that involves making something in a skillful way by using your hands.
Maybe, this definition can be a starting point for a longer conversation about craft in Australia. But also understanding craft in India.

Framework For Evaluating Craft Value

In his 2004 Craft Revival Trust article, Indian designer and consultant Arvind Lodaya. Outlines three crises of craft in regards to livelihood, viability, and status as cultural assets. I will use livelihood and status as cultural assets to provide a useful comparative framework of the extent to which:

  • Craft is something by which Australians and Indians can derive a sustainable livelihood
  • Recognition by national bodies and the media is consistent.

Australian And Indian Craft Livelihood

There are numerically more people making a livelihood through craft in India compared to Australia. According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Work in Selected Culture and Leisure Activities, 2007 survey. 953,500 Australians were involved in craft (out of 10.5 million in the total labor force in 2007).

That is approximately 11% of the working population. Yet on average, only 14.6% of Australians involved in craft earned any payment for their works at all.

According to the Wage Indicator Foundation, the estimated living wage for Australia is A$16.37 an hour. Based on an average of having to work 195 hours per month, an Australian would have to earn A$3192.15 per month to support herself only through craft.

Do the numbers add up? It is difficult to calculate directly, but I offer an anecdotal example. At the last Shirt and Shirt maker fair I attended, I bought a reversible so! In design wrap skirt by Melbourne designer Christina Jonsson for A$40.

On the web, the time allocated to sewing an intermediately complex reversible wrap skirt is 4-6 hours. Not including the price of material, if the labor attached to making the skirt was five hours, the price should have been approximately A$81.85. So her was undervalued.

What about livelihood in India? Out of a total of 417.2 million people working, Associate Professor Brinda Viswanathan of the Madras School of Economics has calculated that 16.7 million people work in the Indian sector.

Compared To The Australian

This is approximately 4% of the working population. Compared to the Australian crafts person, the Indian crafts person does sell his or her wares. Jaya Jaitly describes in the article, Craft as Industry:

Cultural demands of their communities or of their traditional customers keep them at bare subsistence level. Products thus continue to be made, and wherever they are in great demand artisan communities organize themselves in a variety of informal and semi-formal ways. It is important to remember that nearly all in India is community-based, tradition-driven, and purchased for cultural or utilitarian reasons by a largely domestic market.

The mostly domestic market means that the their traditional customers many not earn enough to allow the crafts person to earn a living wage. The Wage Indicator Foundation has calculated this to be 65 rupees (A$1.18) per hour. An Indian craftsperson would have to earn 10,725 rupees (A$230.10) per month through the craft. This is possible for crafts people with access to urban markets, like New Delhi’s Dilli Haat, and especially international markets. But the majority do not have access these markets.

Indian designers, NGOs, and even philanthropic organizations describe the kinds of government and private investment needed to make Indian viable. Craft Australia until recently was the peak advocate in Australia. Yet, to convince people to support craft, it has to be seen as a cultural asset.

Australian And Indian As Cultural Assets

If one looks at Australian government policies, national awards, and media attention, it could be argue that Australia does not value as a cultural asset. The Australian Federal Government has not provided a policy since the defunding of Craft Australia in 2011 and the transfer of the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy to the Australia Council.

While there are many regional awards and the Qantas Spirit of Youth awards for Craft and Design Object, there has been only one recent attempt to establish a national award the 2013 Australian Craft Awards.

In terms of media attention, a Factiva news engine search of The Age, The Australian, and the Sydney Herald Sun from June 2013 July 2014 resulted in 930 results, of which 233 were about beer. This is compare to 3,317 results for design and 4,948 results for art.

Dominance Of The Craft Sector

Maybe because of the dominance of the sector, the Indian government has long established policies to support. There is an official Government of India Development Commissioner, Handicrafts in the Ministry of Textiles. It has released its 12th 5-year plan schemes. At the beginning of July, it presented its National Award as well as two other award and weaving. This is in addition to the Council of India’s four craft awards.

Factiva news search of the word in The Hindu, The Times of India, and India Today resulted in 2,138 results. This is compare to 11,980 results for design and 14,832 results for art. One would think that has less importance than design and art. Yet when you look at the art articles, craft is often mention in the same breath. For example, when The Times of India recently announced a new art gallery in South Mumbai, it says:

Drawn from the court rooms and out of pure passion, Naziya Merchant a solicitor by training, opened up Caravan Hands, a designer store cum art gallery to promote Indian artists and craftsmen.

Why The Evaluation Of Craft Matters?

When I completed the indigo dyeing workshop, one of the things that most impressed me was how the process, the motifs, and the culture of India were all one. How India chooses to value its reflects how it values its cultural diversity.

The same can said for Australia. Whether it is diverse crafts of the Indigenous Australians, the European settlers, or the Asian and African migrants, when Australia loses its tangible connection to craft, it loses that unity that can come between who it is and what it makes.

These losses not just felt on the individual level, but as a nation. Sometimes the advantage of travel is that is shows you how to better appreciate home. It would be good to see the support in Australia as high as the support in India.

Less Leadership, More Democracy Craft Brew Management Crisis

Less Leadership, More Democracy Craft Brew Management Crisis

Craft beer brew was born back in the 1980s, and while the start was slow. It’s since become a big business. One of the success stories is Scotland’s Brew Dog, which was found in 2007 by James Watt and Martin Dickie.

Fifteen years after they pulled their first pint, Brew Dog has become one of the sector’s leaders. In 2020, the firm’s overall revenues grew by 10%, online sales by 900% and the gross profit margin to 48%. All this despite the pandemic and the fact that the majority. Of its 100 bars were close for long periods over the year. The company is currently value at close to £2 billion and employs more than 1,600 people globally.

Brew Dog grew thanks to crowdfunding support from thousands of small investors. And a reputation for doing business with social and environmental values. Aiming to distinguish themselves from traditional corporations, the company sought to become the best employer in the world. And refers to their employees as our people, the beating heart of our business and the reason we exist.

Unfortunately, despite such rhetoric, 2021 was a turbulent year for the company. Triggered by allegations from former employees that there was a bullying culture. The allegations were made in an June 2021 open letter sign by more than 300 former and current workers. They accuse the company of creating a rotten culture in which growth is pursue at all costs. And employees are left feeling burnt-out, miserable and afraid to speak out.

Certification, Yet Troubling Brew Questions

Ironically, the letter was publish just four months after the firm was certified as a B Corp. With the workers’ dimension receiving the highest score. The certification is aim at businesses that meet high standards of social and environmental performance. Transparency and accountability toward generating positive impact on its stakeholders workers, communities, customers, suppliers, and the environment.

The accusations and the company’s move to offer attractive financial terms to private equity. Groups left many of the Brew Dog’s 18,000 crowdfunding investors deeply worried. The organization that runs the B Corp certification, B Lab, also raised concerns

In response, the company apologized and announced plans to conduct an independent review into the allegations. It conclude that mistakes made and the company would enact measures to address them. But it was too little, too late. A month after the announcement, a BBC documentary, The Truth about Brew Dog, brought the accusations back to the headlines. Many were direct at the company’s leader and co-founder, James Watt, who had allegedly attempted to pressure former staff from appearing in the documentary.

In May 2022, Watt announced that he would donate a fifth of his personal shares to an employee trust providing share options to around 750 of its 2,200 staff. Despite being a limited form of employee ownership, he described it as a radical move and very much about ownership, about building a new type of company and about giving back.

Limitations Of Leadership

The Brew Dog case raises important questions about the limitations of certification systems and the potential of employee ownership. My PhD research involved an in-depth comparative case study of four leading Brazilian B Corps during 2015, combining 57 interviews of leaders and employees with observation-led research and document analysis, including the companies’ B Impact assessment reports. The enquiry revealed three key points:

  • The role of leaders is decisive in shaping the culture of these companies
  • However, certification is not always follow by plans to address remaining critical gaps, particularly with regards to the companies’ governance processes and relationship with workers;
  • Corporate governance is key to achieving a balance of purpose and profit.

This raises the question as to whether improving leadership is enough or bringing workers to the center of decision-making is what will make a difference. Research carried out with a group of small and medium-sized B Corps shows that those who had some form of ownership and/or governance model shared with employees presented higher levels of engagement with external stakeholders. Having a stake in the company made employees feel more invest and interest in developing positive relationships with customers, suppliers, communities, and the environment.

The importance of employee ownership to reinforce social mission is perhaps something that the B Corp movement could be more explicit about. As for Brew Dog, it’s still a timid step, but appears to be a move in the right direction to prioritize collective democracy over individual leadership in the workplace.