On March 3, the Brewers Association (BA) revised its definition of a craft brewer. The revised definition states: An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.
• Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (about 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.
• Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
• 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.
Just like that, there are suddenly some familiar names once called crafty by the BA that are now considered craft. In late February the members of the BA, the trade group representing craft brewers, met in Boulder, CO, and slightly tweaked its definition of a craft brewer, allowing a number of heritage breweries to join the club.
This change was more than a year in the making after the BA released its short-lived but much debated“Craft vs. Crafty” campaign and released a list of “Domestic Non-Craft Brewers” that included August Schell Brewing and D.G. Yuengling and Son Inc., among other heritage breweries, because they used adjuncts like corn or rice in their recipes.
At the time, Jace Marti of August Schell wrote an open letter that quickly went viral in beer circles, questioning the BA’s terminology, while laying out his brewery’s 152-year history.
“We brew [our beers] this way because that is the way we always have done it, not because it is cheaper. We put the same amount of pride and effort into producing our American Lagers as we do our lineup of all-malt ‘specialty’ beers, since we can’t dare call them ‘craft.’ I know for a fact the same holds true for our friends at the Yuengling and Straub breweries,” Marti wrote in December 2012. “For you to say that the three oldest, family-owned breweries in America are ‘not traditional’ is downright disrespectful, rude and quite frankly, embarrassing.”
Paul Gatza, the BA director, said that some voting members took the Schell letter into account when revising the definition, which now recognizes that adjunct brewing is traditional, as brewers have long brewed with what has been available to them. He also noted that some craft brewers were already using corn and rice in some of their recipes.
Due to the “small” and “independent” definitions, breweries like Widmer Brothers (with partial ownership by Anheuser-Busch InBev) are still excluded by the BA. This new definition draws a clear line in the “us vs. them” mentality that has pitted craft brewers against larger companies like AB InBev and MillerCoors. The addition of heritage brewers into the BA’s craft definition essentially makes what was once three separate categories of breweries into two.
“The revised definition provides room for the innovative capabilities of craft brewers to develop new beer styles and be creative within existing beer styles,” said Gary Fish, chair of the BA Board of Directors.
John is the editor of All About Beer Magazine, the host of The Beer Briefing on iHeart Radio, and the author of three books, including The American Craft Beer Cookbook. Find him on Twitter @John_Holl.