It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
When we first became obsessed wit “better beer,” nearly two decades ago those beers were
often referred to as “microbrews. That terms, however,wasn’t very useful or descriptive,
primarily because all it implied was size. Of course back then better beer was specifically the
result of small batches unlike the massive output of the “macro” giants. But over the years
everything changed. All of those Big Brewers eventually came to own small "micro" breweries
of their own meaning that we consumers have to look beyond “size” for quality.
And thus, “craft beer” became the operative term, Using the Brewers Association definition of
“small, independent and traditional,” complete with many caveats both the consumers and the
brewers could have a go-to definition of who was “craft” and who was not. It wasn’t a perfect
way to describe our kind of beer but it worked. However things keep right on changing and
here's my point Bill, the time of “craft” as a useful descriptor rapidly seems to be approaching
its end. Thanks to the ever-diversifying shades of grey introduced by brewery buyouts and
takeovers from a variety of sources, the single word definition of “craft” has become too
muddled and ineffectual to apply to an entire industry—and with it the Brewers Association
definition of the true meaning of “craft” as fewer breweries (and consumers) recognize the term
as valuable, important or necessary. Maybe it's time for a new definition.
That term seems to be “independent craft brewer.” The Brewers Association is throwing its
influence behind that phrase and frankly I too would prefer to see it replace “craft” in the long
run, As you know the BA has created an Independent seal that is available for brewers to use.
Look Bill, the official “craft” definition has become more complicated, divisive and
argumentative over time, but at least “independent” is somewhat easier to codify. And it also
may represent a new line in the sand that consumers and to help consumers choose breweries
who are truly about quality beer and independence..
Bill, I know you don't like change but the definition of craft beer hasn’t just suddenly become
problematic in the last year. Rather, it’s an issue that has gradually moved into the spotlight
over time, until it now has finally reached a critical mass in 2018.
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
I remember being a bit cynical when in 2010 the Brewers Assoc. changed the definition of
“small” from 2 million to 6 million barrels; because they wanted to keep Boston Beer in the craft
fold. By the way, Boston Beer Co. is now in danger of losing that “craft” distinction once again,
not because they’re exceeding the 6 million limit but because of the definition of the “traditional”
requirement, which says that a “majority of its total beverage alcohol volume” must consist of
beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their
fermentation.” Since “flavored malt beverages" are not considered beers and roughly half of
BBC's production is now Angry Orchard Cider and products such as Twisted Tea and Truly
Spiked & Sparkling (alcoholic “spiked seltzer water”), their status as being a “beer brewery” first
and foremost is questionable and they could lose craft beer status.
By the way, the “traditional” requirement was also modified in 2014, when the requirement that a
brewery have an “all-malt” flagship or otherwise primarily make adjunct-free beer was lifted, to
allow Yuengling and its iconic lager to enter the fold and immediately become the largest
brewery to bear the “craft” title. I have to admit that, for me, really blurred the distinction
between craft and macro beer. But now we come to “independent,” and this is the section of the
craft beer definition that seems most likely to signal the end of “craft” as a valuable descriptor.
As currently written, it states the following: "Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned
or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a
craft brewer." At first that seems clear, if you see out to InBev or some such giant you are not
craft. But breweries acquired by private capital firms such as Cigar City, Oskar Blues (Fireman
Capital) or Schlafly (Sage Capital) are still counted among the BA’s annual craft beer statistics—
as are Boulevard Brewing Co. and Firestone Walker, now owned by Belgium’s Duvel Moortgat.
Gina, the likes of Golden Road, Devil’s Backbone or Four Peaks should never be able to call
themselves “craft.” But what about Founders? Avery? Is 30 % ownership by a Spanish brewer
detrimental to the ethos of the craft beer industry? To the spirit of craft beer? And even if it is—
would anyone in their right mind argue that it’s exactly as detrimental, to the same degree, as
100 percent ownership by AB InBev?
I applaud the BA for creating the Independent Brewer concept but I submit that there are
shades of grey need to there that should be somehow acknowledged.
Here's looking at you Gina