Yesterday the U.S. Brewers Association released a statement, entitled Craft vs. Crafty, outlining its position on craft beer and the incursions into craft by the multinational corporate brewers (which you can read in full here). A couple of key things arise from it that are worth noting here.
First, they express their concern about the proliferation of craft-like products from the big brewers. They specifically single out Blue Moon and Shock Top. They accuse the big boys of “deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers”.
This leads to the need for them to state clearly their definition of craft beer: “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.”
Finally, they take the additional step of calling for honesty in labeling. “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”.
I pondered the statement all day, trying to decide what I thought about it. For what it’s worth, this is what I have come up with: Their statement, while well-intentioned, serves only to muddy the waters of the craft debate, rather than resolve it. There are two concerns here. First, they link craft to ownership, which (as I discuss here and here and other places) is highly problematic. How does a beer go from craft to non-craft simply because the brewery is sold? I won’t repeat my argument, but will simply point to Unibroue as Exhibit A.
Second – and this is the more troubling aspect – their definition completely separates the notion of craft from issues of quality, process or ingredients. By the BA’s definition Minhas or Moosehead is a craft beer while Creemore or Unibroue are not. That seems backward to me.
I appreciate that they have a large and diverse membership, some of whom make crappy beer and others who make among the best in the world. Hence their hedging. But still, it makes the whole exercise seem self-interested and the BA to appear just as disingenuous as the big boys they are criticizing. Shock Top is bad (well, okay it is) but some cheapo adjunct-laden discount beer that happens to be owned by one guy is good?
I am all on-board with their call for transparency in labeling. I have long argued that integrity in marketing and production is what demarcates real craft beer. I would love to find a way to make the big boys own up to their faux-craft lines. But I also want to make so-called independent breweries do the same thing.
Finally, I can’t help but chuckle at how the BA goes on and on about the importance of “small, independent” breweries, and then they remind us that they define small as “6 million barrels of beer or less”. Hello?? That is the combined capacity of all of Canada’s craft brewers, for God’s sake (okay probably not – I haven’t done the math – but it is scarily closer than you might think). I continue to love Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada beer, but there is no bloody way you will ever convince me that they continue to be small breweries.
The issue of faux-craft beer is a serious one, as it undermines the growth and reputation of legitimate craft beer. But we need more than self-serving press releases from the largest craft beer organization on the planet if we are to do something about it. The route, in my mind, is more consumer education and, occasionally, unrelenting mockery of beer that pretend to have real craft credentials (*cough* Shock Top *cough*).
How are you going to help in that fight, good folks over at BA?