Craft vs. Crafty: Should We Drop the Craft and Just Call it Beer?

This post has simmered for some time but was recently moved to the front of the pack. In January the CEO of Craft Brew Alliance (CBA) had a bit of a rant about his beers not being “craft”, then earlier this month the Brewer’s Association changed their definition, finally friend of the blog Bryan Roth posted his take on the topic over on his blog This Is Why I’m Drunk. So what is Craft vs. Crafty and how should we refer to the beer we love?

O, be some other name
What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

There seems to be an ongoing back and forth about what is or is not craft beer. Is Yeungling craft beer because it uses so many adjuncts? How about Boston Beer Company and its 3+ million barrels a year? Tenth and Blake owns a small part of Terrapin Brewery. Does that mean Terrapin isn’t craft? Mind you Tenth and Blake is owned by MillerCoors.

Join me as we take a look at what “craft beer” is and try to answer these questions.

Depends on what the meaning of the word Craft is

So what is “craft” beer anyways? Even the Brewer’s Association can’t stick to one definition for too long. Here was the definition back in the fall of 2009:

Small: Annual production of beer less than 2 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.

Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

In 2011 they decided to bump the number of barrels per year up from 2 million to 6 million barrels. Is this because all craft breweries were pumping out millions of barrels of beer a year? Nope, just 1. Boston Beer Company crossed the 2 million barrel barrier and was suddenly no longer “craft’ beer. This change in definition also coincided with a federal tax change that met the 6 million barrel limit as well.

2 more years went by and just this month the Brewers Association changed the definition yet again. The number of barrels remained the same, as did the percentage of ownership, however, the definition of traditional took a big hit:

Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

What’s the difference between “an all malt flagship” vs. “traditional or innovative brewing ingredients”? Yeungling is the difference. Yeungling has been using adjuncts like corn and rice to lighten beers for a while and was not considered a “craft brewery” last month but is today. What changed? You already saw that, just a few words about what it means to be traditional.

We can go back and answer those questions now:

  •  Is Yeungling craft beer because it uses so many adjuncts? Yes, as of now Yeungling is now craft beer.
  • How about Boston Beer Company and its 3+ million barrels a year? Boston Beer was, then wasn’t, and now again is a craft brewery.
  • Tenth and Blake (MillerCoors) owns a small part of Terrapin Brewery. Does that mean Terrapin isn’t craft? Since Tenth and Blake owns a minority share you rest assured that your Moo-Hoo is still craft beer.

What does all this really matter though? It’s all (or mostly) malt, hops, water, and yeast right? Most of it is tasty depending on your preferences.

Don’t Bash the Beer

Andy Thomas is the CEO of the Craft Beer Alliance (CBA), don’t let that clever name fool you. CBA is a merger of Redhook, Kona, and Widmer not some organization for benefit of all brewers like it sounds. Thomas recently went off a bit on the Brewer’s Association (which is an organization for the benefit of most breweries) definition of craft beer that we just read.

Why did he go off? Because he, and his sub-brands, are not – by definition – craft breweries. A large stake of the company is owned by AB-InBev, too large to meet the Brewer’s Association definition. In his speech he said we should stop bashing different beers for how “crafty” or not they are. He called on us to drop the high schoolish clicks of “Stoners, jocks, and geeks.”

Should we end the segregation?

I think so. Will we? Doubtfully. The concepts of cliques and separating “us” from “them” is, unfortunately, human nature. We categorize things as part of our base instincts. Regardless of if it’s race, religion, sexual orientation, barrels per year, or perceived level of artistic quality, we segregate everything. We only stop doing so at great cost and labor. Even once that’s been done humanity has a tendency to backslide into their old segregated ways.

All things considered

Personally I’m less concerned if something is “craft”, “crafty”, or “macro” but more if it is local or regional and mostly if it is delicious. There’s an argument to be made for quality over quantity but if a brewery can make quality in quantity then that’s no reason to like it any less. Once the beer suffers though, it’s time to look somewhere else.

What are your thoughts and what’s most important to you? A delicious beverage? Supporting the local economy? Helping a small brewery? Or as many of those as you can get into one beverage? Let us know in the comments below.


4 thoughts on “Craft vs. Crafty: Should We Drop the Craft and Just Call it Beer?”

  1. I mostly agree that taste is what I’m most concerned about. I don’t drink Kona, Widmer, and Redhook mostly because there are many, many other beers on the shelf that are much better than anything any of them produce. Likewise, AB/Inbev ownership isn’t going to stop my from buying Goose Island’s Bourbon County brands, GI’s sours, or anything else that is really good from them.

  2. My preferences have followed in-line with the growth of craft. While I don’t care about craft or crafty or macro – just taste – I almost exclusively choose beer in two ways:
    1. Local
    2. Something new

    After that, I’ll divvy up decisions based on what breweries I historically like most. That said, #1 and 2 offer LOTS of crossover nowadays, so I’m satisfied.

    One thing that has stood out to me – a post I’m formulating in my head now – is that if you pay close attention, both craft brewers and the Big Boys are using the same definition for their product: “lifestyle.” It’s just that AB InBev and MillerCoors use it outwardly and literally. Craft brewers hint at it, although I’ve heard in conversations in recent months the actual phrase of “we’re trying to build a lifestyle” when talking about craft consumers.

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