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.
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.”
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.
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.
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