It's about the beer
Gina Miller and Bill Keeper
As we enter the new year I'm worrying about the future of craft beer as we know it. I know
you're shanking you head but if you needed any further proof of the difficult straits in which the
craft beer industry finds itself, look no further than the latest change to the Brewers
Association's definition of craft beer. No longer must a brewery use the traditional ingredients
that have laid at the heart of brewing for so long -- now it just needs to make beer in some
quantity. Otherwise pretty much anything goes.
I realize that the change reflects a desperate attempt by the craft beer industry's trade group
to keep Boston Beer in the fold which they see as important during a time when the leading
craft brewer's beer sales continue to tumble. However as I see it, when the definition no longer
captures the essence of what brewing is about it's right to question why they bother having a
definition at all.
This is the fourth iteration of the Brewers Association definition since 2007, and it may be the
one that most degrades the purpose of having one in the first place. Removing the
requirement that a brewer must use traditional ingredients, it recognizes Boston Beer is
struggling to sell its Samuel Adams beer while sales of hard cider, tea, and seltzer are enjoying
healthy growth, In fact, sales of its Angry Orchard rose cider and berry-flavored Truly brand of
seltzer soared in popularity whicle Samuel Adams beer was down once again.
the Brewers Association is changing its definition before that happens to ensure Boston Beer
can still be called a craft brewer because the company accounts for 8% of the total volume the
trade group reports each year.
The new definition maintains a brewer needs to be small, produce under 6 million barrels
annually, and be independent, or not more than 25% owned by a non-craft brewer. (The
production limit was raised from 4 million barrels in 2011, again to keep Boston Beer in the
category.) But instead of a mandate that traditional ingredients be used, the association opted
to require breweries to simply have a brewer's notice from the Treasury Department's Tax &
Trade Bureau that allows them to brew beer for sale. Come on Bill, what's craft about that?
That's it from me, chug-a-lug, Bill.....see you next time!
Hello Gina -
Slow down, my head hurts from all that shaking. Look, I mainly agree with you but I notice you
didn't join in my dismay when the the Brewers Assoc. previously allowed the inclusion of
adjuncts to let brewers like D.G. Yuengling & Son into the organization, since its use of corn and
rice to brew beer didn't fit the prior definition.
From my perspective the term "craft" had become watered down and filled with conflicting
exceptions, it simply isn’t a useful term for the public to fall back on as a benchmark of quality or
thoughtful consumption. The reason behind this more concretely defined BA concept of
“independence,” means that consumers now have to answer the question of how much brewery
independence is worth to them.
Look, Gina, it’s time for another change. Prior alterations to the definition of "craft" concerned
the amount of barrels a craft brewery was allowed to produce while remaining “small,” and the
ingredients a craft brewer could use while remaining “traditional,” In the new definition the BA
simply drops the “traditional” requirements entirely. That will lead to more innovation, expanding
product lines, and what we both want, a long life for the craft beer concept.
As to your argument that this is mainly about Boston Beer I agree. Please consider that their
production is too big for the BA to lose, so it’s only logical for the organization to modify the
“craft brewer” definition in any way that will retain Boston Beer—even when the modifications
begin to strain plausibility and imply favoritism.
Other companies will also be facing a similar circumstance in the coming years and it’s natural
that the largest of the smallest would get there first. Gina, consider Boston Beer brings to the
table in terms of greater craft market share, bolstering the BA's arguments for shelf space,
government affairs capability, and technical program contributions.
I don’t even necessarily believe that a brewer like Boston Beer Co. should be stripped of the title
when its beer production dips under 50 percent of the company’s total volume. They are, after
all, pioneers of this industry. Boston Beer to me will always remain an “emeritus” craft brewer,
even if other products become the focus of their business. Without them we would never have
entered this golden age of beer that you and I so love and enjoy.
Here's looking at you Gina!