Seal of Independece
by Richard O'Reilly
The Brewers Association — a group of 5,300 small and independent American craft brewers — has launched a new
initiative to help craft beer enthusiasts differentiate between a craft beer and beers produced by large, foreign
beer companies, or “Big Beer.” Participating craft beer companies will have a seal on their bottles that says
“Independent Craft” to indicate its independently owned craft brewery.
As Big Beer has snapped up craft breweries, it’s grown harder to tell who the true indies are. but this will clear up
the confusion by declaring their ownership right on the bottle.
More than 800 breweries — including Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium — will soon begin printing
seals on their beers that identify them as “Certified Independent Craft.” The initiative, which was spearheaded by
the trade group for independent craft brewers, is intended to differentiate “true” craft beers from those made by
the likes of MillerCoors, Anheuser-Busch and Heineken.
To qualify to use the seal, breweries must meet this criteria:
• Small- Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales).
Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.
• Independent- Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic
interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
• Traditional- A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from
traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not
Five international conglomerates — Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors, Constellation/Crown Imports, Heineken
and Pabst — already control more than 80 percent of the U.S. beer market, according to the National Beer
That market dominance has given the big corporate brewers significant advantages over their independent
competition. On the brewing side, large companies can leverage their volume, and their capital, to score more
and better hops, grains, etc. at lower prices. The larger issue, however, lies in distribution. Because the five Big
Beer firms represent the majority of business for the middlemen who move beer from breweries to taplines and
retail stores, they exercise enormous influence over how their beer is displayed and promoted and how their small
competitors beers are handled.
Distribution contracts frequently allow major beer brands to dictate where their beer is placed on shelves totheir
advantage. Big Beer has used the same clout to successfully drive independent beers out of many stadiums,
music venues and chain restaurants by asking distributors to stock their "crafty" brands instead of independents.
In Massachusetts and California, investigators have accused Anheuser-Busch with bribing stores to give their
beers better placement. In Massachusetts alone, the company gave away equipment worth $942,200 to more
than 400 retailers, according to a 14-month probe that concluded in May. In California, the company settled with
local regulators for $400,000.
Brewers say these concerns have only been exacerbated by Big Beer’s incursion into craft. The acquisition of
independent breweries, they argue, has eroded the few advantages the indies had: higher-quality beers in
different styles and a cooler, vastly less corporate brand. Since 2011, Anheuser-Busch has bought Goose Island,
Blue Point, Karbach, Golden Road, Devil’s Backbone, Elysian, Ten Barrel, Breckenridge, Four Peaks and Wicked
Weed. MillerCoors now owns Terrapin; Heineken has Lagunitas, and Constellation owns Ballast Point Brewery.
“If I walk into a farmers market, I assume the produce was grown by an independent, local farmer,” said Daniel
Kleban, the co-founder and brewer at Freeport’s Maine Beer Company. “If I found out that stuff actually came
from Dole, I’d be upset, personally.”
So if you support local craft breweries and wnat to see them continue to grow and make great beer look for the
seal of independence whenever you purchase beer.
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