The Brewers Association is issuing its own declaration of independence.
The Denver-based trade group has released a “Certified Independent Craft” seal that approved craft brewers can use to distinguish their products from more mass-market brands.
At last report, more than 900 of the 5,200-plus qualifying breweries across the country (many of whom don’t bottle or can anyway) have signed up for the seal since it was announced last week. You won’t actually see it in stores for a while, though, since brewers need to work through their existing inventories of packaging and labels first.
It’s the latest step by the Brewers Association to try to identify true craft breweries and distinguish them from their more corporate competitors.
The association has developed a three-part definition of “craft brewer.” Two of those parts – production size and brewing methods – have been fudged in recent years so larger players like Sam Adams and Yuengling can continue to count toward craft beer’s growing market share.
So the focus has shifted to the third part (which hasn’t changed), independent ownership: “Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled … by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.”
That rules out breweries partially or wholly owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev (Elysian, 10 Barrel, Redhook, Kona, Widmer, Golden Road, Goose island et al) and MillerCoors (including Hop Valley, Leinenkugel and Saint Archer).
The fear is that those brewing behemoths will use their distribution muscle to crowd out craft beer on the shelves in favor of their own brands, and their financial clout to cut prices to levels where craft can’t compete.
(The particularly hated Anheuser-Busch came out with a response video to the Brewers Association seal that’s been much-mocked in craft circles for its “we’re-all-in-this-together” message).
But several breweries with bigger, more benign parents also will be prohibited from using the seal – including Lagunitas (Heineken), Ballast Point (Constellation Brands), Pyramid (North American Breweries) and Founders (San Miguel).
And let’s not even get started on the increasing number of breweries being sold to private equity firms, which doesn’t violate the Brewers Association rules (since they’re not competing brewers) but raises its own set of questions.
It’s getting to where a purist can’t keep it all straight without carrying a scorecard – which, of course, is the idea behind the Certified Independent Craft seal. But since it’s voluntary, just because you don’t see a seal won’t mean it’s not the real craft deal.
If you don’t want to bother with all the label-inspecting and hair-splitting, here’s a simple solution: Drink local. You know exactly where the money’s going – back into your own community – and you’re getting the freshest beer possible (particularly on draft).
Our forefathers – many of whom were homebrewers themselves – would be proud.