Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

Speaking Craft Beverage: Building Power, Status, and Economy with Linguistic Capital in the Craft Beverage World

Speaking Craft Beverage: Building Power, Status, and Economy with Linguistic Capital in the Craft Beverage World

Debbie A. Leggett

In 1978 U.S. H.R. 1337 was signed into law, legalizing homebrewing in the United States. Growth of the hobby coupled with changing State and Federal regulations had an enormous impact on the expansion of commercial craft beverage production, from 80 breweries in 1983 to 4,144 in 2015. As in any hobby or professional field, the craft beverage consumer and producer communities use specific language in describing and discussing products. Language choice within the craft beverage community is used not only for the surface purpose of describing and identifying qualities of a beverage but also to explicitly and implicitly confer information about socio-economic status, experience, and access to rare and desirable products. Use of specific and accurate descriptors alongside other field specific lexicon when tasting and judging craft beverage has lasting effects on consumer perception and future engagement with a product, fellow enthusiast, or brewer. This research examines how descriptive lexical items are used together by hobbyists and professionals to describe flavor, aroma, and experience in alcoholic craft beverage and how the use of this specific language creates and develops status, power, and economy within the communities of practice of craft beverage consumer and producer groups. An analysis of collected description and discourse data from online users of craft beverage discussion and rating forums such as,, Untappd, and YouTube as well as branding and marketing information from the brewers will be examined to see how linguistic, social, and economic capital are created and used in these communities.

Keywords: discourse analysis, craft beer, sociolinguistics, linguistic anthropology, craft beverage, mead, social theory

April 11, 2016 - Posted by | abstract


  1. No one talks about Budweiser using the terms, hoppy, dark and with a slight hint of citrus. Not only the language but the semiotics would be interesting to study as many craft brews that are strong in alcohol content have such masculine type branding. I wonder if these results from the brewers being male or the beer is seen as being masculine.

    Comment by D Castagna | April 20, 2016 | Reply

    • I think it’s the latter, that the beer is seen as having masculine traits (whatever those are). I am expanding this project and the next section I am tackling will deal with more specific ‘technical’ descriptors and their use as well as these kind of non-measurable or personality words that brewers and consumers use to talk about beverage; things like masculine, delicate, aggressive, or playful. What exactly does it mean for a beer to be playful anyway? What kind of more measurable terms do we find used near these ones, with what frequency, and are they consistent in anyway? I’m also interested in how the way a brewer talks about their products in marketing influences taste and aroma descriptors and how those in the consumer communities might use their capital to influence the taste perception of others. I do address in the paper some of the words micro brewers use to indicate a special ingredient or process and how they are misleading in various ways.

      Comment by Debbie Leggett | May 9, 2016 | Reply

  2. I’m so glad your research is focusing on this topic. Anecdotally, it seems to me that those who use lots of descriptive, niche craft brewing terms are more unsure about their status in the craft beverage world. Sort of like a “fake it ’til you make it” sort of deal. When my friends who are into it talk about it it is above my head, when the people at the beer stores talk to me about they readily make it easy for me to understand. But I could just as easily see these people giving home brewers thinking they know what they are talking about a linguistic run for their money, so to speak. That being said, I wonder how or if results might be complicated based on the perceived hearer and/or speaker’s roles in the craft beverage world.

    Comment by C.M. Cassady | April 21, 2016 | Reply

    • Thank you.
      There is certainly some kind of “code-switching” type language behavior going on in the craft beverage world. I talk about it in the paper to an extent but it is something I am planning on pursuing more in depth as I move forward with this work. In addition to the knowledge of language in this domain, speakers need some knowledge of the social dynamics going on in order to use the terminology (remember Bourdeiu?) to get their desired responses. A personal example is this: at work I use completely different language to describe the same things if I am talking to a new person, a regular, a homebrewer, a professional brewer, a seasoned member of the consumer community, etc., but it takes a minute, some attention, and good question asking to figure out how I need to tailor my conversation and accommodate to my conversation partner(s). Using more complicated and descriptive language in a setting where it isn’t exactly appropriate can be a tool to alienate newcomers or it might backfire and make the speaker seem pretentious or snobby (I address this in the paper as well).

      Comment by Debbie Leggett | May 9, 2016 | Reply

  3. This is a very interesting subject! My father is a huge fan of the craft beer industry and I have noticed the many different words he uses to describe beers as well as the names of the beers themselves. Did you look into the different language used by beer companies and how they aim specific products towards men and others towards women?

    Comment by Mallory Moore | May 4, 2016 | Reply

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