It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
It’s been less than two months since the Brewers Association (BA), the main group organized
to represent the interests of small and independent U.S. craft beer companies and by
extension we craft beer lovers, unveiled the “independent craft brewer seal,” a special badge
aimed at helping member breweries distinguish their beers from those owned by multinational
corporations. But you know all of that I'm sure. But what you might not know that the last time I
checked 1,790 breweries had embraced the seal, agreeing to display it across packaging and
marketing materials, on websites, and in taproom windows, among other places. That's good
news as far as I'm concerned.
Why do I say it's good? Look Bill, I believe that independence matters, perhaps now more
than ever, and that beer drinkers should have as much information as possible when making
buying decisions. I see the BA seal as one of several ways small brewers can fight back
against big beer’s effort to obfuscate the beer market. Walk down any store's beer aisles and
you'll see they're filled with a dazzling (dizzying is more like it) display of colors and an illusion
of choice. It's an illusion because a startling number of the options you see all do the same
thing - send your dollars funneling back to the same three or four giant beer conglomerates
who want to destroy the small, independent brewer.
As much as I support the BA's initiative I nonetheless do have a problem with their definition of
what is an independent craft brewer. Specifically I do not like its interpretation of what it
means to be independent and the organization’s design decisions. Bill, If I were setting the
criteria to use the seal, I’d make 100 percent independence a requirement. Right now the BA
says that a craft brewery could sell a 24.99 percent stake to a multinational conglomerate and
still be allowed to use the seal as an “independent” brewery. Baloney.
I also take issue with the way the seal was designed. What I mean is that breweries should
have some aesthetic concerns about using the seal the way it looks since it would certainly
tarnish many a brewery’s designs by pinning an upside down beer bottle on its labels. An
upside down beer bottle is the best they could do?? Ugh, that design is best put on case
cartons, bottle carriers and tasting room décor if you ask me.
Bill, I can almost hear you saying "she knows nothing about art". You may be right though I
used to date a guy named Art once. Bottom line is that regardless of how bad the design is I
will look for it and only buy beer that displays it. Take that you maco dogs!
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time.
Hello Gina -
Oh my you are really fired up. I'm almost afraid to respond... but I will anyway. I came across a
2017 experiment published in the Journal of Behavioral and Experimental Economics (just some
light reading for me, Gina) that found that offering consumers at a bar more information about
their choices increased purchases, even as the choices increased. The experiment discovered
that as choices continue to proliferate, retailers who provide information and curate their
selections for their customers will hold an advantage in the marketplace over those who don’t. t
As I see it they’re onto something. The experiment seems clearly show a seal (no matter how
ugly or pedestrian it might look) that differentiates independent brewers from their corporately
held counterparts will work to the benefit of craft beer and their retail/wholesale customers. In
other words it can clarify a confusing marketplace and help the consumer choose craft.
Gina, there's no denying that recent acquisitions in the industry have pushed the movement for
an independent seal. Budweiser parent company ABInBev has been especially active (ie,
egregious) acquiring 10 craft breweries from around the country since 2011.. Large brewers
have a lot of muscle and now as they expand via takeover after takeover their brands will
eventually push off real craft brewers from tap handles and shelf space.
Did you see that various members of The High End — A-B InBev’s craft and specialty division —
created a video and shared opposing views of the effort just three days after the badge was
introduced? Here's the basic thing they said - "the BA is saying it doesn’t matter what’s in your
glass as long as it’s independent, and they’re telling consumers that, then that’s a big issue,
You’re saying go ahead and drink crap just as long as you don’t support the big guys. And it’s
not healthy and not a good way going forward.” The statement came from a former craft brewer
who sold out. Looks like he sold more than the brewery to InBev.
From my perspective I see the new independent craft seal as a celebration of the entrepreneurs
who helped build the craft beer revolution in America. It shows their spirit, fortitude, and
courage in challenging an almost closed market. They started a movement and the seal will
help to continue its growth.
On a more practical side the new seal just might help customers better understand higher prices
typical for beers from smaller, independently-owned breweries. When a four pack of craft beer
costs the same as a case of Bud Light then there must be a reason why. The seal will help
explain that as will the beer's taste. The seal shows a history and integrity of the product that
makes craft beer what it is.
As to your complaint about the upside down bottle the BA must have had heard many similar
comments to the point where they issued a statement about it. They said the logo was
intentionally chosen to be upside down to show that "We’ve turned beer world upside down and
we have become a model for what beer can be,”
A bit lame I agree but it is what it is.
Here's looking at you Gina