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“Craft vs. Crafty” Debate

Remember: this debate about what is and what isn't a craft beer has been going on for a long time. Brewers Assn prexy Charlie Papazian publicly chided AB for not putting its name on Shock Top back in 2008. But it has kicked into higher gear. In BA's public statement that brought the conversation back into the spotlight, it asked for transparency: all brewers should be proud to print their company names on all brand labels. A couple of big brewer responses to such a call shifted the focus to the histories and quality of their craft-aligned brands or the individuals who created them. But to answer BA's question directly would be to simply utter a truth of the market as it's been for years: not id-ing a brand owner on all packaging is commonplace across a broad spectrum of industries. (Think Gallo.) It's hard to imagine that the BA doesn't know that and actually expects the massive change its "call for transparency" implies. So the org may not get what it's asking for, but it has generated a whole lot of attention. Some of that has not been positive and there will likely be blowback. But any attention at all perpetuates the conversation. The longer the conversation continues, the more chance the BA has of convincing another consumer that "small and independent" is important, at least as far brewing companies go.

This recent flare-up in the debate included some important shifts though. Among them is the Beer Institute's stepping up to defend its members and the products they make, and the stepping up by those in the industry that feel somehow caught in the middle, somewhere between strictly BA-defined "craft" and the org's "crafty" claims. Contributions from August Schell's Jace Marti, Blue Moon's long-time head brewer Keith Villa, and Terrapin founder John Cochran highlighted the complexities that come along with reducing any large group to "one" or "the other" as well as the thorniness of this particular division. Many others participated as well, and much of it is worth time and thought. To aid our readers in following the conversation, we've compiled the commentary that's kept us engaged in this debate, which you can find and share at will. This list will grow as more is written and spoken on the subject. Of those many comments added in the last week, we think it's worth reflecting on a cold, wintery truth that Brock Wagner, founder of Saint Arnold, restated when The Houston Chronicle asked him to weigh in: "the marketplace owes us nothing."


Charlie Papazian’s Examiner.com blog - “No beer pride with Shock Top” - 8/5/2008

St Louis Post-Dispatch - “Big Beer moves into small batch space” - 11/18/2012 -

BA Statement - 12/13/2012

Boulder, CO • December 13, 2012—The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American craft brewers, issued the following statement regarding the increase in production and promotion of craft-like beers by large, non-craft breweries:

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. The community of small and independent craft brewers has grown as beer enthusiasts embrace new, diverse beers brewed by their neighbors and friends who are invested in their local communities. Beer drinkers are voting with their palates and dollars to support these entrepreneurs and their small and independent businesses.

In 2011, small and independent craft brewers saw their industry grow 13 percent by volume; in the first half of 2012, volume grew by an additional 12 percent. Meanwhile, the overall beer industry was down 1.3 percent by volume and domestic non-craft was down 5 million barrels in 2011. Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.

While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today's small and independent brewers, it's important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft. However, many non-standard, non-light "crafty" beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it's from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it's made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.

The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today's small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking. And for those passionate beer lovers out there, we ask that you take the time to familiarize yourself with who is brewing the beer you are drinking. Is it a product of a small and independent brewer? Or is it from a crafty large brewer, seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of small and independent craft brewers?

St Louis Post-Dispatch Op-Ed - “Craft of Crafty? Consumers deserve to know the truth” - 12/13/2012

Beer Institute Response - “With Expansion of Small Brewers, Consumers have More Choice than Ever” - 12/14/2012

Charlie’s Examiner.com blog - “Beer drinkers always give a damn” - 12/13/2012

Sam Calagione, of Dogfish Head Brewing, on Beer Advocate - 12/13/2012

Tom Cardella, of Tenth and Blake (MillerCoors), on BeerPulse.com - 12/13/2012

Jace Marti, of August Schell, response (via BeerPulse.com) - 12/14/2012

ABC News - “Think Tank Lambastes Big Beer Brewers, Modelo Sale” - 12/14/2012

MSN Money - “Boston Beer gives Budweiser another reason to worry” - 12/14/2012

DRAFT Magazine - “The Meaning of Craft Beer” - 12/14/2012

The Houston Chronicle - “Debate Over Craft Beer Versus ‘Faux Craft’ Beers Bubbles Up” - 12/17/2012

Keith Villa, head brewer of Blue Moon (MillerCoors) - 12/17/2012

"I helped Jeff Lebesch and Kim Jordan when they started New Belgium, while brewing in the basement of their house. I cultured yeast for them to keep the quality of their Fat Tire beer high. I provided advice to smooth out the flavor of Fat Tire. I contacted the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to help sponsor the two Belgian brewmasters at New Belgium – Floris Delee (who has since moved on) and Peter Bouckaert, who is their current brewmaster."

John at Terrapin (blog of John Cochran, of Terrapin Brewing Co) - “Craft vs. Crafty?” - 12/18/2012

Associations Now - “Beer Group Brews Up Campaign to Protect Craft Niche” - 12/18/2012

Tom Long, CEO of MillerCoors, on CNN Opinion - 12/21/2012