What is a gypsy brewer? How do they differ from regular brewers? Should they be held with the same regard as regular brewers? These questions have come up, either directly or indirectly, in a recent blog from a brewer in Massachusetts. A gypsy brewer (or contract brewer) is one who uses other breweries' equipment to brew his/her beer. Mikkeller is probably the most commonly known one, but there are many others. So why are they getting some heat?
The gist is that gypsy brewers are not real brewers since they do not brew the beer themselves and/or are not present when their beer is brewed. They do not own brick and mortar localities and rely on the talents of others for brewing their recipes. Financially, they have not invested or risked as much as those regular brewers, which makes them seem as just trying to get a piece of the pie with less effort.
These are opinions, based on facts. It is a fact that gypsy brewers use equipment that is not theirs (or the bank's). It is true that sometimes they are not present when their beer is brewed. The opinions rise from there.
But what is also true is the common claim, by brewers, that beer isn't beer until the yeast has done it's job: brewers make wort, yeast makes beer. So, who are the real brewers? Ok, so this is nitpicking a bit. Yet, I think it's important to acknowledge the whole process before rendering opinions of absolute labeling.
Of course, we could look at new technologies and ask ourselves who the brewers really are. Push button computer software can follow the progress of the brewing cycle and make minute changes when need to follow a recipe. Some software can even be overseen and controlled off premise: that is, by the brewer from his/her couch at home. In this case, is the brewer still a brewer?
My answer is, who cares? What's the deal with the focus on definitions of such trivial scale? Sure, I can understand the difference between sweating all brewing and picking up wort. I'm not saying brewing and gypsy brewing are the same. My question is why should it matter? Maybe giving credit where credit is due is the underlying issue. If so, then perhaps labels on the bottles/cans can provide satisfaction. I'm sure they are options to consider.
The bottom line for me is that if you admonish some beers for being "contracted", then you are missing some great beer. AND doing disservice to those who actually did sweat all day making the wort. It's still great beer, those who worked on it got paid, and the yeast finished it off.