Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Who makes "Craft Beer"?

If you follow the beer industry, you have probably read about controversy regarding the Brewers Association's statement regarding "real craft" versus "faux crafty" beers and their attempt to define what is a craft beer and what is not.

The Brewers Association is a not-for-profit trade group made up of small, independent, and traditional American craft brewers across the U.S.  To define its membership, the Brewers Association came up with the following definition of its members: "small" means less than 6 million barrels of beer produced annually; "independent" means that no more than 25% of the brewer can be owned by another brewery who itself is not a BA member; "traditional" means a brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

First, a little history:  this definition of a "craft" brewer has not always been so convoluted.  In fact, when Yazoo Brewing started in 2003, I don't think there was anything more to the definition than "small" meant under 2 million barrels a year of production.  However, a few years ago, Boston Beer, the brewer of Sam Adams lager and the biggest member of the BA, approached 2 million barrels of beer sold.  At the same time, brewers such as Redhook and Widmer began selling equity in their businesses to the bigger brewers like Anheuser-Busch.  So the BA changed their definition - expanding the limit to 6 million barrels, and adding the "independent" and "traditional" definitions as well.

I personally think that the general public deserves to make up their own mind on what beer and brands they want to support with their hard-earned money.  Most "craft" beer drinkers are choosing to buy their beers based on flavor and taste, but also because they like to support small businesses, often ones based in their own community.  My main problem with the brands that the Brewers Association called out as "faux crafty", brands like MillerCoors' Blue Moon or A-B's Shock Top, is that the consumer is often confused as to who the true brewer of the brand is.  But the same can be said of a lot of the "craft" beers on the shelf in your local Kroger, that are solely contract-brewed at big facilities like City Brewery's plants in Wisconsin and now in Memphis.

My advice is, go with what tastes great to you.  If you are a person who cares about where a beer is made and who made it (like me for instance), do a little research while you're sipping on that beer.  If you find that a big brewer owns the brand, and that knowledge ends up making the beer taste not quite as good to you, that's fine.  The good news is, there are more and more small, independent brewers out there every day who you can support.

1 comment:

Bigby said...

Great article. I buy 99.999% of my beer from local and regional craft outlets, and that is very important to me. We should support our local brewers, as well as bakers/food procuers, farmers, service providers, storekeepers, etc. What has really muddied the water for me is situations like Goose Island (and, as you mentioned, Widmer and others). It's a tough call on whether to support them in their new circumstance. Luckily I have a lot of other options (including my own brews), so it's not hard to give up these beers, but there are many Goose Island beers that I've enjoyed in the past (Sofie, for instance, is quite good). Regardless, I'm glad that you guys do what you do, and I will continue to support your efforts. Now... if you sell out to InBev, we may need to talk... ;)