If you’ve been paying any attention to the world of “craft” beer the last few days, you’ve seen the Brewer’s Association’s latest message regarding “real” craft beer vs. “faux” craft beer. According to the BA, a “true” craft brewer produces less than 6 million barrels per year, uses “traditional” ingredients, and is less than 25% owned by a non craft brewer (i.e. anyone that produces more than 6 million barrels or whose flagship uses “non-traditional” ingredients).
Theoretically, these three criteria are all OK. Especially when one considers them as what they really are. They are an attempt by a trade organization, the Brewer’s Association, to define their clientele. Taken in that light, no big deal. The BA is trying to organize the chaotic beer world in a way that allows them to draw a line and say, “These are the companies that are part of our organization. These are the breweries who we, as a trade organization, represent.”
So far, so good. This rough division has been the status-quo (with some occasional, random grumbling) for the past few years. Everyone knew where they fit into the BA definition and they dealt with it as a minor annoyance.
But now the BA is trying to reserve the term “craft beer” to only their members. The BA is saying, “We have defined our constituents; we know exactly who we represent. By the way Mr. Consumer, here is a list of breweries that we have decided can not be members of the BA. These non members are “faux” craft brewers. Don’t support them; they are not “true” craft brewers.” In my opinion, this was a huge mistake.
Full disclosure times two: 1) I sit on the Public Relations Committee of the BA. I occasionally talk to some of the people who were involved in defining craft beer to exclude all the breweries on the above chart, and 2) Tenth & Blake/ MillerCoors has a minority stake (below 25%) in Terrapin. I also occasionally talk to some of the people who will argue they are very much craft despite getting their paycheck from a large brewer.
The inner workings of the beer world are very confusing to outsiders. And truthfully, to many insiders as well. And it’s only going to get more confusing. ABI and MillerCoors WILL purchase/partner with more small breweries. Larger regional breweries such as Sam Adams, Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Deschutes, etc, WILL purchase/partner with more small breweries. Several large private equity firms WILL purchase/partner with more small breweries. This trend is just getting started and the list of “faux” craft breweries will continue to grow.
(My hope is the list will eventually become meaningless and the conversation will instead focus on the quality of the beer. Because truthfully, some of the people on the above list make great beers, and some, not so much.)
How can it be anything other than confusing with these examples?
ABI now owns Goose Island. Yes, they have shifted their flagship to the large ABI breweries. But many of their specialty beers are still made at the same Goose Island brewery by the same brewers who worked there when it was craft. Now it’s not craft. Does this make sense to you?
Here is an article that discusses AC Golden Brewing. I personally have been to AC Golden and tasted their crazy, barrel-aged beers. I’ve seen their brewhouse which is 1/4 or less of the size of most regional breweries such as Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, Sweetwater, etc. I’ve seen their bottling line which is smaller than the lines being used by Left Hand, Flying Dog, Stone, etc. But they are not craft. Does this make sense to you?
Here is a response to the BA press release from August Schell Brewing. “As a 152-year-old brewery, and the second oldest family-owned brewery in America,” the BA has stated that they are not “traditional” and therefore not craft. Does this make sense to you?
Blue Moon was originally brewed in Sandlot Brewery at Coors Field. They are known throughout the industry for being more experimental, and definitely smaller, than most small breweries in the US. But they are not craft. Does this make sense to you? (Here is a response to the BA from Tenth & Blake.)
Sam Adams for many years was contract brewed at Miller Brewing. Many contract craft breweries are being made now at City Brewing, Lion or even August Schell. They are craft even though they are being produced on the same equipment and by the same brewers that are not craft? Does this make sense to you?
So, how do you keep it straight? That decision is ultimately up to each of you. You have to decide – is it about the beer? Do you purchase and support the beers that you enjoy, or do you potentially ignore great beers from the “non craft” brewers and support potentially mediocre beers just because they are made by the local “craft” brewer?
Me? I’m doing both.