A Polite Rebuttal to the “Craft vs. Crafty” Press Release

So, if you follow any of your favorite local breweries on Twitter or Facebook, or you regularly check in on the Brewer’s Association (or their other page CraftBeer.com), you have no doubt heard by now that The Brewers Association has issued a press release (available in full here) calling out the macro-brewers for their veiled attempts at making “crafty”, or craft-like posers like Blue Moon or Shock Top, while also not labeling those products as owned by their respective corporations, or where they are brewed.

not “craft beer”

Now, I love me some craft beer.  That much should be obvious, as I write on a website called Hop Press, a sister site of Rate Beer.  And it should be pointed out that I wholeheartedly agree with the broad, major points of the press release and the aim of The Brewers Association: to educate the masses on who makes the beer they buy, and to direct that money to smaller and more, if I may, wholesome and passionate brewers.  I’m all for more transparency and a more knowledged consumer.  People need to know if their $7 six-pack is going to fund a brewer, or if it’s going to fund a Super Bowl ad featuring bikini chicks.

However, what I have a problem with is the BA’s definition of a “Craft Brewer”.  Now, there are plenty of smarter folks than me who have already weighed in on this debate, what makes a beer or brewer “craft”, if it matters, et. al.  But this specifically comes down to how the BA defines things, as posted on this PDF image that was included with the press release (as seen here) that calls out non-”craft” brands.  Admittedly there are some pretty big offenders on there, such as Blue Moon, Leinenkugel, and 10th & Blake.  But there are some damn good beer makers being “black-listed”, as it were, like August Schell Brewing.

The reason? Their flagship beer has corn in it.  ”Why are we being punished for brewing with a locally grown ingredient, which started out of necessity, and has continued out of tradition? And why is it only bad to use adjuncts if you are brewing an American Lager, yet perfectly acceptable to use them in basically any Belgian style of beer, IPA’s or double IPA’s?”  Jace Marti (6th gen. August Schell owner) asks.  He also added in a letter to BeerPulse.com, “As a 152-year-old brewery, and the second oldest family-owned brewery in America, stating that we are not “traditional” is insulting…[August Schell in 1860] didn’t use corn to cheapen or lighten his beer. He did it because it was the only way to brew a high quality lager beer in America at that point. By the time high quality two-row malting barley was finally cultivated and available to use, our consumers had already been drinking our high quality beers for many years. We continued to brew our beer using this small portion of corn because that was the way we traditionally brewed it.”

Troy Casey of AC Golden, not a "craft brewer"

Troy Casey of AC Golden, not a “craft brewer”

Another brewery, or in this case a pack of breweries, who got burned by this salvo in the ongoing “us vs them” beerwars is The Craft Brewe Alliance, a.k.a. Kona, Red Hook and Widmer Bros.  Full disclosure, I love Widmer Bros’ beers, maybe not so much Kona, and Red Hook is a constant disappointment, but I will stand up for their right to call themselves craft beer.  I know they are 35% owned by A-BInBev (10% over BA’s ‘limit’), but you know what?  I’m going to go ahead and say that any brewer who makes damn fine IPAs, bourbon-barrel-aged barley wines, and coconut porters is a craft brewer and those are craft beers.  Goose Island falls into this category as well.  Yes they are owned by A-BInBev now, and it still feels a little dirty to support them, but this isn’t Shock Top we’re talking about.  I’m talking about Bourbon County Stout, and Matilda, and  Pere Jacques–excellent beers in their own right, and backed up by RateBeer/BeerAdvocate scores.  But according to Papazian and The Brewers Association, they are now “Them”, lumped together with Natty Light and Bud Light Lime.

I understand The Brewers Association’s need to define “Craft Beer”…I do.  And I understand that that definition needs to be more empirical than “it tastes good”.  But it seems disingenuous to give August Schell, Goose Island, Magic Hat, and Widmer Bros. the boot, while not too long ago The Brewers Association changed their “Craft Beer” definition to keep Samuel Adams in the loop, when that brewer was reaching the barrelage cap.

not “craft beer”

I’ve had some beers from BA-approved Craft Breweries that, to be honest, have just plain sucked, and made me wonder if it was made with any heart or talent.  And there have been beers from Coors and A-BInBev that have blown my mind and changed my perception of what constitutes “craft” beer.  This is no easy debate, and there is no winning side here.  We can all agree that Keystone Light sucks, but do we need to ex-communicate those brewers who make a genuine product, with passion and talent and local ingredients, just because they use corn sometimes, or their bills are paid by someone bigger?  Why does Samuel Adams get to stay in the party, but Yuengling’s does not?

I say this press release does more harm than good.  Beer is supposed to bring people together and cause merriment.  Black-listing makers of Belgian Ales and IPAs and stouts is the opposite of that intention.  The Big-3 will never label their “crafty” products as belonging to them, so this press release is merely beating the already-loud drum of  ”us vs them” to their own supporters, like Fox News talking about the War on Christmas.  If those brewers refuse to send their beer to next year’s GABF, I wouldn’t blame them.

considered “craft beer”

13 Comments to “A Polite Rebuttal to the “Craft vs. Crafty” Press Release”

  1. BeerHere2010 - #ADK (@BeerHere2010) 15 December 2012 at 9:28 pm #

    Disagree w/ the sentiment that the BA PR #craftvscraft article was divisive. Educational, informative, maybe dismissive but not divisive.

    Like calling election campaign ads that point out the other guys faults ‘negative’; no they’re just being accurate AND not dedicated to the other guys ‘good points’, s’all.

    Finally. LOVE the line:

    “People need to know if their $7 six-pack is going to fund a brewer, or if it’s going to fund a Super Bowl ad featuring bikini chicks.”

    Spot on!

  2. Pete Brown 19 December 2012 at 9:34 am #

    Agree with every single point you make. If a definition of craft beer doesn’t include beers like Matilda, then to the consumer it is useless.

    I think that’s the thing here – maybe the industry needs a different definition for its own purposes than the consumer needs. But the problem with the beer scene is ‘the industry’ and the hardcore of consumers blend into one mass. This is fine if you’re happy for craft beer to remain a ghetto, neatly cut off fro the mainstream. But I’d like to think that craft has the potential to expand out of its geeky niche and appeal to a pretty large proportion of the drinking world. Small-minded and petty press releases like this one actively stand in the way of that happening.

    Here comes a curious consumer… “Hey, this beer looks more interesting and flavoursome than the shit I’ve been drinking.”

    BA: “STOP! You’re not allowed to drink that as it’s 35% owned by a big corporation you’ve never heard of. STOP! You’re not allowed to drink that one either because it’s brewed with an ingredient we’ve unilaterally decided should not be in there. These are nto true craft beers, sit down and I will explain to you why in brain-freezing rhetoric.”

    Consumer: “Er, you know what? That’s OK. I was just looking for a tasty beer. Guess I’ll stick with Heineken. Or maybe try a glass of wine.”

  3. Mark 20 December 2012 at 6:27 am #

    There needs to be some defining factor as Bud begins it’s nationwide roll out of Goose Island by having AB breweries brew the beer then label the beer as, ‘Brewed and bottled by Goose Island Beer Co., Fort Collins, CO’ or whichever other city they’re brewing the beer in. There is no GI in FoCo nor is the company listed as having an office there with the state. That just seems like a big fat lie AB InBev is pushing on an unknowing consumer.

    As for calling out breweries like Widmer, etc. there wasn’t much they could really do as the definition was already out there. It’s not like they could have changed the definition of craft beer and then called out big beer. That would have looked hypocritical.

  4. Pivní Filosof 20 December 2012 at 7:32 am #

    One thing that bothers me about that press release is the double standards. Big brewers get, rightfully, slagged for lack of transparency, while contract and gypsy brewers don’t even get a mention. So, if ABIB does not say where this or that beer is brewed, it’s BAD, but if TWOBro’s Brewing Co. does basically the same, it’s OK because they have passion, they are CRAFT!

    The truth is that, by an large, consumers don’t give much of a toss about who owns what. What they want is quality and value. (And they don’t care about passion, either. “Passion” is only a marketing buzzword these days).

  5. Duderino 20 December 2012 at 2:39 pm #

    Wasn’t Dominion considered “non-craft” by the BA? I love their beer. Their Oak Barrel Stout is my #1 favorite beer of all time.

  6. ewillyp 20 December 2012 at 5:50 pm #

    wow, i had no idea ABinBev owned 35% of Redhook, Kona AND Windmere… Great article good points all around. I really do think the larger corporation’s name needs to be on the packaging, I DO want to know where it’s brewed and who I’m giving my money to. I do NOT support the big 3. The time is now in this country to support the people supporting their communities and not out to gobble up all the money and power they can.

  7. mark 22 December 2012 at 5:03 pm #

    Regarding “changing the rules” – IIRC the Brewers Association periodically changes the rules to include Sam Adams.

  8. Jordan St.John 30 December 2012 at 12:22 am #

    What the BA really needs, if they want to nip this in the bud, is a simple easily recognizable trademark that represents their members which will differentiate the craft vs. crafty beers. The consumer isn’t going to remember the BA’s three relatively complex criteria on a night out. If the rules don’t even matter to bloggers who spend their entire lives around the stuff, no one else is going to care either. They’re going to order whatever looks good. Maybe a visible trademark would make a difference.

    Of course, that would defeat the purpose of issuing press releases like this one which is to cause panicky discussion amongst industry types and bring attention to the market segment.

  9. glenD 3 January 2013 at 12:33 am #

    Beer is beer. This is America. Taste is what matters. Get the beer to us so that we can taste it. We will keep buying the good brews and discard the garbage. Craft or crafty, honestly the only people who care are the brewers. If a consumer cares they need to get a life and buy beer for the taste. Bud light is garbage. I would never buy it. However, if they make a beer as good as Saint Arnolds Pumpkinator, I will buy it and buy it often. I do not care who brews it. Neither does anyone else when they like the taste. It’s not about the name on the bottle its about the contents inside…

  10. Josh 9 January 2013 at 5:34 am #

    I don’t drink Budweiser because it tastes like garbage, not because of who actually brews it. If tomorrow Budweiser came out with a delicious Flemish red ale, I’d be all up on it. I’m not going to boycott all of a company’s products just because it is big or because I don’t like it’s other products. In my perfect world, America’s biggest beer seller would actually be making good beer. We shouldn’t try to punish the big guys for trying to get in on craft (or crafty) beer.

  11. thkrb99 18 January 2013 at 8:03 pm #

    The solution is quite simple. The real issue is transparency. Who brews the beer? The label should clearly name the brewer. If the brewer is a “local brewer” owned by the one of the “bigs” that should be clearly stated. That will allow consumers to choose brewers they want to support. My opinion is beer should be purchased based on great tasting beer, brewed locally. I think it is important to support quality local vendors what ever they are producing. Supporting local brewers will put money into their pockets rather than a large corporation. The danger lies in the power of big money to drive smaller competition out of markets, creating a lack of quality products.

  12. Amos G. Lynch 25 January 2013 at 9:00 pm #

    This is a movement — and one that is growing quite rapidly. In 2011, craft beer grew 13 percent by volume and 15 percent by dollars, with retail dollar value estimated at $8.7 billion. By mid-2012, the growth continued and dollar sales for craft brewers were up 14 percent, while volume of craft brewed beer sold hopped 12 percent. Overall, beer sales are responsible for 1.6 percent of the gross domestic product.

  13. Butcombe 6 February 2013 at 9:40 am #

    Good article Brian.

    I agree with your point about the difficulty of too tightly defining ‘Craft’ beer and of course agree about the Crafty Blue-Moons of this world! We wrote this article last week about the joys of diversity in beer, why polarizing the beer world into Craft and other misses the point and what’s at the heart of the real Beer Revolution. Would love everyone to read and comment:

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