Thursday, March 1, 2007

Craft Beer, Redefined

There's a new definition of craft beer out from the Brewers Association.

I don't like it.

Comments encouraged.

22 comments:

Andy said...

Seems like a defensive definition rather than a positive, outreach-oriented definition, which is a bad move.

Does wine have any similar definitional attempts at separating its various markets (are Fetzer boxes, IOW, categorized in some other way than Ridge Zinfandels, for example)?

Steven said...

We discussed this for a long time over at RealBeer. At first I misinterpreted the definition, but received confirmation from none other than Paul Gatza himself that a brewer must meet all 3 criteria (small, independent, traditional) to be considered a "craft" brewer. Hmm.

Many of the RealBeer members wondered how Fullers and Spaten might fall into non-craft brewing due to size. We understand they're not US brewers, but then how about Sam Adams? As big as BB is, they're still putting out some great beer.

Myself, I rediscovered Red Hook. Mostly because it was on sale, but also because I hadn't tried it in a long time. It's still a great brew. Maybe not as characterful as it may have been, but pretty darn tasty. And yeah, the conspiracy theories on A-B run amok with all the newly acquired holdings, but I'm a staunch Goose Island fan until the product turns for the worse (which I don't predict at all).

Lew, I think you said it best in a response over at Stan's blog, is this about the beer or the brewery?

Lew Bryson said...

Boston Beer isn't close to hitting 2 million yet (Yuengling is, which is fantastic, but of course, they use an adjunct to lighten the flavor of their beer, so they're bad, forget the fact that they've been making a porter for longer than most craft brewers have been alive...), but are they considered a craft brewer, or not? I should ask Paul. They had that sentence in there about contract brewers, but it was sufficiently vague that I wasn't clear on what it meant.

There's a website that lists who owns who in German breweries. Most of them fail on the "independent" leg. Spaten/Franziskaner is NOT a craft brewer: they're owned by InBev; so is Löwenbräu, Beck's, Diebels, snf Gilde. Paulaner & H-P are owned by Heineken, as are Würzburger Hofbräu, Fürstenberg, Kulmbacher (!), Privatbrauerei Hoepfner, and Schmucker. I'm not sure how the Oetker empire falls under this definition -- they're a health food/drugstore chain that owns a ton of German breweries.

I've hated Redhook Winterhook for years, roundly abused it as pointless. Got talked into a sample two weeks ago...and bought a pitcher. That's one beer that definitely got better.

It's about the beer, dammit.

Stan Hieronymus said...

Yuengling wasn't listed as a craft brewer last year - and that's before they kicked what looks to be about a million barrels of production out of the club.

bill mc said...

I think its about the beer and not the brewer(y). A-B has a few beers like Redbridge (made with sorghum) that is pretty tasty (don't know if its a session beer).

It was like the brewer from Albany Pump Station told my wife, who is not fond of dark beers, ..."don't drink by color,...drink by style..." and he hit the nail on the head there.

So its not about the who brews it but more importantly what is brewed. And in the end if you like it, who cares?

Steven said...

Most of them fail on the "independent" leg. Spaten/Franziskaner is NOT a craft brewer: they're owned by InBev;

It's about the beer, dammit.


Right. And I'd take a lousy, conglomo owned, brewed in a big brewery Optimator or Franziskaner over any BMC product any day.

I don't see where size needs to dictate quality (or lack thereof).

Hmm, Winterook. Saw that this year, opted to pass because it's always just been so, so -- my loss I guess.

Loren said...

How many brewers give a rat's tookus about this ever changing definition? And further down the chain...how many consumers do as well?

I'm finding a hard time getting anyone I know in the geek world to admit they care about this one iota.

Why does it chaffe your bag so much?

Cheers!

JohnG said...

Such a lot of convolutions to define "craft". Either you like the beer or you don't. Most "micro" or "craft" brewers that bottle brew on automated systems just like budweiser's - just smaller. So what as long as the beer is good? The only honest definition of "craft" I can think of would be "hand-made". Does it make beer better when a mash is stirred by hand? I don't think so, but at least that is a definition that makes sense.

okbrewer said...

I can remember when I was a kid and we started a club, with a neat tree fort and everything! We put up a sign that said, "BOYS ONLY!". But it wasn't really just boys only, 'cause there were some boys who we didn't want in our club so we got more restrictive by having some laws and even a test, or maybe hazing is a better word! The point is is that we 'weeded' people out who we didn't want and only included those that we did want to associate. This seems to me to be very similar. It's not about the beer or the brewers but about creating more hoops to jump thru in order to play in the game. But why would the BA want to create such a narrow definition? They are constantly proclaiming that "craft brewing" is on the rise! Wouldn't this new definition show a down turn in craft brewing? Is it really going to help or hinder "craft brewing"? Should we care!? Let's just focus on continuing to brew good tasting beer, regardless of which cubby hole your favorite brewery happens to fall into! "Good Beer Allowed Here!"

Harry Spade said...

I may have missed it in the Buzz, but is there a purpose for all of these definitions? I mean is there actually some sort of gain to be had by having one's brewery fall into a certain category? I know there are some reasons where state regulations come into play, but otherwise I'm puzzled by all of this fuss.

Steve Beaumont said...

It's all about the numbers, isn't it? In order for the BA to say that "craft brewing is up such-and-such a percent," they have to be able to define precisely what it is that's up. Hence a narrow, restrictive definition that shuts out non-American brews (evil imports), impure beers (gotta keep that 25-year-old "tradition" alive)and anything from a so-called big brewery (as if 1.9 million barrels isn't big).

Does or should it mean anything to beer drinkers? No.

Lew Bryson said...

Loren, Stephen, and anyone else whose position it is that this doesn't matter,

To a certain degree, it doesn't. But the Brewers Association (actually, its predecessors) did put the stamp of approval on the term 'craft beer' by making that the category name about which they released productin figures. "Craft beer" became the de facto term over "microbrewed beer," although you still see that term often.

But what we the drinkers call it is not that important. Mostly we call it "beer." Which is what we ought to call it.

I'm concerned about this in the effects it will have on the industry. I can't help but see it as a divisive thing, and that is NOT what the industry needs.

JohnG said...

Relax, don't worry, and have a well-crafted Budweiser.

Lew Bryson said...

Y'know...I didn't like that slogan when I was homebrewing, either.

Stephen Beaumont said...

Lew, re: your "I can't help but see it as a divisive thing, and that is NOT what the industry needs."

It may come to pass that some brewer decides to make a big deal about her beer being "craft" while the competition's is not, but I kinda doubt it. (And now that I think about it, what about a brewery with three beers that quality and two that for one reason or another do not? Will the BA subtract the latter's sales from the overall numbers?)I really do think it's a silly definition, but also that it's more a bookkeeping issue than anything else.

Lew Bryson said...

I'd like to think you're right, Stephen, but...we've got an ugly situation in Philly right now with one Belgian bar (Eulogy) claiming to be "Philly's only real Belgian owned restaurant-bar" and another Belgian bar (Monk's Cafe) apparently finally responding to this by proclaiming that they are "Philadelphia's Premiere Belgian Beer Bar" and that the owners have been "serving fine Belgian ale in Philadelphia since 1985."

I never thought I'd see the day. And I still hope you're right. But I can't help thinking that the Brewers Association kicking out a brewer won't lead to something like that when competition gets tough...as it always is in the Chicago market...just ask New Glarus.

Yes, it's largely about the numbers. But why would the Brewers Association want to lose the volume from Redhook, Widmer, Goose Island, Old Dominion, et al? Especially when what they are brewing is clearly craft beer? That is what leads me to believe there's more to it.

Steve Beaumont said...

That may be true, Lew, but can you really see a brewery running an ad campaign that states "We're less than 25% owned owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer, brew a flagship beer that's all malt and brew fewer than 2 million barrels, while Brewery X is not!"? Wouldn't it be easier to just say "So-and-so is in bed with the big boys" or "All malt rocks and they're not all malt"? Or even the inane "Think global, drink local"?

I exaggerate, of course, but my point is that if this kind of divisiveness does come to pass, I suspect that it will be isolated and/or largely behind the scenes.

Lew Bryson said...

Mr. Beaumont says: "...I exaggerate, of course..."

Well, yeah! No, I don't see anyone using the text of the BA's definition. But I do see them saying that they're a "real" craft brewer, just as they said it when they compared themselves to contract brewers, which opened a whole mess of bad feelings when the industry would have benefited from pulling together.

I don't see this as healthy for the craft brewing segment, and I wanted to say that to the brewers. I wanted to make the drinkers aware that pronouncements like this are not necessarily in their best interests, either. The definition as it stands is, I believe, a distinction without a difference.

Is it a very big deal? Well, what is? The great brewery extinction in Europe is, but there's not much I can do about that. The three-tier system falling apart and what's going to replace it, but I've already talked about that, and continue to talk about it. Neo-prohibitionism? Ditto. Jeez, man, a guy's gotta talk about something!

Stan Hieronymus said...

We'll see if I can do a link right:

Julie Johnson Bradford (All About Beer magazine) has a nice column in an NC paper. She concludes:

"I know the craft beer "badge" can be valuable in luring new drinkers. But, ultimately, it's all about flavor. I don't care if a large company owns a share in the brewery that makes the beer I enjoy. If I did, several fine imports I love drinking would be verboten. Goose Island in Chicago is no less a great brewery because Anheuser-Busch now distributes their beer, and they shouldn't be blacklisted for that reason.

"My heart is with the little guys, because their beers are local, fresh and consistently more challenging in flavor. I hope they don't become distracted with a fight over who the 'real' craft brewers are: The quality of their beer should keep us loyal."

bill mc said...

Ok, being a Library geek, I decided to see what kind of definition I could find for "craft beer". Here it is, according to the American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language.

craft beer

NOUN:

A distinctively flavored beer that is brewed and distributed regionally. Also called craft brew , microbrew

To be honest with you, I kind of like that definition.

The regionally distributed part is what catches my eye here. That being put forth, I would be of the opinion,(based on the above definition)that Sierra Nevada's availablity in New York state would disqualify them from being considered a craft beer (based on definition). Locality is what plays here.

I do see a problem with using microbrew as a synonym. I feel that the term microbrew has grown beyond its original meaning and it seems that BA has not grown with it.

It also seesm that there are politics being played here which I feel sucks for the good brewers out there who are being hurt by this.

Now, on a slightly different tangent if I may...

Our local beer store in Coxsackie, NY has changed owners and just last night I was in there and they were selling (among others) Spaten Oktoberfest for $5.99 a 12 pack.(needless to say I bought several). When I asked the clerk, she told me that the new owner wants to get rid of the beers that don't move and only sell the stuff that does (Miller, Lite, Bud, Busch). I feel the demographics (two prisons and a lot of warehouses) are going to doom what was at one time a nice beer store for anything more exotic than Rolling Rock. This is especially disheartening since there is NO other distributor in the entire county. So, would a discussion about craft beer go over well around here???


Phew, I have too much time on my hands.

Lew Bryson said...

Stan,
Thanks for that link...I don't feel so all alone any more.

Lew Bryson said...

Bill,

This is the problem with definitions...they all depend on the person writing them. I have the same problem with American Heritage's "regional" that I do with the BA's "small," in that I just don't feel it's right that Sierra Nevada (or any other brewer) should be kicked out of the "club" because of success. Sierra Nevada has become a nationally-distributed craft beer on the basis of its quality. They don't advertise. They don't do big promotions. There are no "Sierra Nevada Girls." And for that, we're going to say they're not a craft brewer?

Now, your store dropping variety...that sucks, plain and simple. I can understand the store-owner's position, but I can't condone it. Get out there and sell it, man, don't sit on your chunk and let the majors do all the heavy lifting!