Craft vs. Crafty – Brewers Association “You’ve Probably Never Heard of Us”

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Last Thursday the Brewers Association, the voice of craft beer in the United States (and Canada), released a statement entitled “Craft vs. Crafty”. In this statement, surprise surprise, the BA takes on major breweries and criticizes their somewhat unannounced entry into the craft beer market.

I’m quite divided on this statement. Certainly, I am for supporting local independent breweries. Ultimately, this is the gist of the BA’s statement.

But here’s where I take issue…

It’s the implied ownership of the term “craft brewer” and reference to others as imitators. The BA notes that large breweries producing quality beer are not “by definition” craft, simply based on production capabilities and other criteria relating to ownership. In fact, let’s take a look at the BA’s “definition” of craft brewer:

An American craft brewer is defined as small and independent. Their annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

See anything about ingredients or process? Also whats with the nationalism? There are many Canadian BA members, and countless non American brewers otherwise meeting the criteria.

Now, it’s perfectly legitimate for the BA to set the standards for its association. However, it is somewhat misleading if not wrong for the BA to establish a definition it likes, and then shit on someone else because they don’t comply. Unless my U.S. trademark searches are flawed, the BA doesn’t own a trademark for “craft beer” or “craft brewer” and, from a purely descriptive standpoint, the BA’s definition does not make a lot of sense at all. Rather, “Not huge and mostly American” would be a more accurate description of the BA definition.

It’s also more than a little misleading for the BA to suggest they are just about the little guy. Many members are very large private companies and a look at a couple of the public company BA members gives a taste of their willingness to stretch out to accommodate growing members:

Boston Beer Co. – NYSE (SAM), Market Cap of $1.78 Billion

Craft Brew Alliance Inc. – NASDAQ (BREW), Market Cap of $124 million

Big Rock Brewery – TSX (BR), Market Cap of $91 million

Now, these companies are not as big as the major breweries – but there are not that many “major” breweries. In any event, they are light-years away from the mom n’ pop operation, and do you really think these breweries aren’t trying their best to grow financially? They owe a fiduciary duty to their shareholders, so they better be. (And really? Big Rock is more “craft” than Goose Island?)

Again, supporting local is important to me and I buy a lot of local beer. However, this myth that large multinational corporate ownership automatically diminishes the product is a little frustrating. Molson Coors owned Beer Academy is a great example for Toronto of why this isn’t true.

It is also quite frustrating that the BA attempts to diminish breweries that have sold out to major breweries. First off, no one forced these craft brewers to sell – for whatever reason, they saw the opportunity and perhaps financial gains they’d been looking for. Taking a great beer, increasing accessibility and jobs associated should not be viewed as prima facie a cynical practice. And don’t expect big companies to ignore the public demand and avoid pursuing the same success small breweries are enjoying.

BA, as you put it, customers are choosing with their palate. So let them. Don’t automatically write off companies with big parents. And if you want to push larger issues, to me it should be about quality of the beer and the people making it; not who their shareholders are or how wide their distribution connections are – every industry has there giants.  As a side point, and in direct response to the BA statement, anyone who wants Shocktop is probably not really looking for craft beer.

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  1. 9 Beers Americans No Longer Drink … and Why It’s a Good Thing (Part 3) | This Is Why I'm Drunk - December 22, 2012

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