Defined, or Divided?
recently mentioned to someone that one of the things that I thought
made my beer writing worthwhile to read was my longer perspective on
things. I've been drinking beer out of the mainstream since 1981. I
lived in California in the 1980s and visited Sierra Nevada when they
were still in a steel building in an industrial park. (I had my first
Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on August 4, 1987 in a deli in Tahoe City,
California; it was lunch, and I had a corned beef special with it. Hey,
some people remember where they were when JFK was shot.) I've been
writing about beer since 1993, full-time since 1995. I'm not bragging,
it's just that I've seen more stuff happen over a longer period than a
lot of the folks who are posting on websites. I've even seen more of it
than a lot of brewers. Call it the long view.
also have the luxury of a different perspective, one from
outside the industry. There's an "in the trenches" mentality
that sometimes focuses brewers' attention on the stuff right in front of
them, things that seem very important because they're right there.
Viewed from farther away, they are seen as small issues that happen to
be close up. Call it the distant view.
going on right now that sure looks a lot different from my two
points of view. The Brewers Association has re-defined craft-brewing.
I'll give you the whole thing, from the BA
website (emphasis added, and for the rest of this Buzz, "BA"
refers to the Brewers Association, not BeerAdvocate, unless I say
definition of craft beer as stated by the Brewers Association: An American
craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.
Craft beer comes only from a craft brewer. Small = annual
production of beer less than 2 million barrels. Beer production is
attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating
proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for
purposes of this definition.
= Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or
equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member
who is not themselves a craft brewer. Traditional = 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.
That's got the brewing savages leaping around the fire, shaking
their spears and shouting "BOOYAH!! CRAFT BREWERS GOT BALLS!!
Yeah, brother, we're small! We're independent! We're traditional!
And any sell-out swill brewer who isn't, CAN'T BE IN OUR CLUB!! YAAAH!!!"
deal. First off, trying to pass this off as a new or better
definition of craft beer is about as disingenuous as Rogue saying
they don't engage in marketing. Puhleeze. This is not
about beer. You'll notice that this "definition of craft beer"
starts with a definition of a craft brewer. This is about business,
the bugaboo in all the impassioned discussions about craft brewing,
microbrewing, homebrewing, megabrewing, every-damned-type-of-brewing.
Don't fool yourself: the Brewers Association is a business
association, and this is about business.
is fine. Small brewers need a business association, and if they have
one, it should look out for their business interests. It's not much good
if it doesn't, eh? But I say that if they put this out there as if they
were speaking for the whole movement, instead of just the
industry, they should be called on it.
folks who don't understand what I'm talking about are the same folks
who won't drink Redhook because they're sure that Anheuser-Busch
has polluted Redhook -- oh, sorry, Budhook is what we're
supposed to call it. Redhook, Widmer, Leinenkugel: these breweries
aren't real craft breweries, they've sold out. (Leinie
wasn't ever a real craft brewer anyway, of course: they brewed lagers
that Grand-dad drank.)
why I hope some of those guys are Goose Island drinkers in
Chicagoland. You thought you were a craft beer drinker, you drank local,
fresh beer. Hell, you went to Goose Island every week for dinner and a
handful of pints! Sorry, pal: you're a filthy swill-sucker. You
haven't changed your beer, your beer hasn't changed, the folks
who brew it haven't changed. All that happened was business. Less
than half of Goose Island was sold to another small brewer -- Widmer --
who in turn is no longer a "craft brewer" because it is less
than half-owned by A-B.
A-B is amazing. They own less than half of the business that
owns less than half of Goose Island, but they've got John and
Greg Hall goose-stepping to the Long Distance Mega-Beer Barrels Polka.
Goose Island is no longer a craft brewer because of a twice-removed
business connection to the big hairy BoogeyMan of Brewing. That's
that's bullshit. I'm going to Chicago next month for WhiskyFest.
Greg Hall's speaking, as a matter of fact, and he's bringing beers, just
like he did last year. And his beers are going to taste great, and
different from the mainstream, just like they did last year. Goose
Island is no longer a craft brewer? Pull the other one, it's got bells
how I feel about the whole "independent" thing. Might as
well knock 'em all down. How about "small"? This is something
I've always had a problem with. "Craft brewer" is obviously a
title with some cachet, that a brewer of that ilk would want to keep.
Time was, all these guys were microbrewers, and there were
actually laws passed that defined that, often at 15,000 bbls. annual
production or less.
quoted those laws like gospel: if it's under 15,000 bbls., it's a
microbrewery. Sierra Nevada went over early, so did Anchor. So...the
people didn't change, the beer didn't change, the passion didn't
change...they're no longer allowed to call themselves a
microbrewery because they were successful? Stupid, artificial
limit on "craft" brewing of "small" as under 2
million bbls. a year is no less stupid or artificial, it's just higher.
Does anyone doubt that Sierra Nevada, New Belgium, or maybe Boulevard
will go over 2 million bbls. eventually? I don't. Does anyone believe
their beer will be significantly different -- significantly lesser
-- than it is now? I don't. But they'll no longer be craft brewers?
right along... How about "traditional"? Well, the
"all malt" provision is a non-starter. Despite all the hot air
and buffalo snort about the Reinheitsgebot and how much all-malt is
better always always always (stamp on the ground and hold your
breath till you turn blue), brewers today are mature enough to
acknowledge that there are brewing adjuncts that can help in the
production of some styles of beer. Sugar in Belgian styles, for
instance, or honey, or even corn in some styles.
to be a "craft brewer" you still have to kiss the all malt
totem, or its slippery corollary, "
it all about? Well, some of you may think I think that Ashton
Lewis is an
idiot. I don't. Ashton is a bright and thoughtful guy who is
a frequent contributor to the BA Forum, and I enjoy his writing. I just
didn't happen to agree with him about negative beer reviews. I did agree
with his latest post to the Forum. Here are some pertinent
It seems it
would have been easier to simply say that a craft brewer is any American
brewer, EXCEPT AB, Miller or Coors. OK, OK, this is an
exaggeration! The definition presented yesterday does exclude more US
breweries than 3 from the list, but not too many.
According to the
new definition of craft beer a great beer like Duvel is not a craft
If I were one of
the brewers excluded by this definition I might take offense to the
negative connotation attached to certain ingredients and the implication
that I don't use traditional practices. This could lead to
that's where I really agree with Ashton, and hail him for having the
guts and perception to state it. From that long view, I remember a bunch
of Oregon brewers who joined A-B in a lawsuit against Boston Beer
back in 1996...and who, a year later, withdrew from the suit because, in
the words of Deschutes Brewing founder Gary Fish, "The petition has
been used to create acrimony and disharmony in the craft brewing
anyone doubt that this new definition of "craft brewing"
will have the same effect?
what drove its conception? That's where the other different
perspective comes in. I'm afraid the craft brewers see Goose Island, and
Old Dominion, and Widmer, and the new A-B "craft-type" beers,
and they're circling the wagons. The true believers are getting
ready to test you to see if you're staunch craft brewers, rock-ribbed
and sufficiently orthodox to wear the name proudly.
it's just not that big a deal. I'm not saying brewers shouldn't be
concerned about this. Big brewers have the wholesaler clout to make real
problems for you. Big brewers have the chain restaurant and supermarket
to make real problems for you. But you are not going to make it better
by turning on each other and going all craftier than thou. That's
one step away from Beer McCarthyism.
all for going true believer. But dammit, folks, what is this about?
I would say -- and have, over and over -- that it has never really been
about the size of the brewery, or who owned the brewery, or how the beer
was made. It's about the beer. And the people we truly want to
reach, and the ones who continue to join that group through education
(education that I deeply believe and participate in), are the ones who
know that. One more quote from Ashton's Forum post shows that this guy,
who is the brewmaster at a brewery that makes under 5,000 bbls. a year,
clearly gets it.
the true craft consumer, a craft-made product, be it beer, wine, cheese,
bread, or clothing, is evident upon evaluation. If the producer of
a fine craft product is fortunate enough to become successful and spread
their wares across the globe why should their size matter?
about the beer. It is not about the brewery, and that is the
fatal flaw in this definition of craft beer. It does not put the
beer first. Read it again: "The definition of craft beer as
stated by the Brewers Association: An American craft brewer is small,
independent and traditional. Craft beer comes only from a craft
brewer." Why doesn't the beer come first?
staunch. Brew good beer. Don't forget or abandon tradition, but in
the spirit of American brewing, don't be bound by it, either. And that
includes microbrewing tradition. Not many brewers use a kayak
paddle to stir the mash these days, but back in the 1980s, if you didn't
have a wooden paddle in the brewhouse, you were suspect. We got past
that. We can get past this. Stay staunch.
I not concerned by the advent of large breweries nosing their way
into the craft market, no matter how good their beers are? Of course I
am. But I need something to write about next month.