The BA has revised its craft brewer criteria again
Defining craft today is extremely hard given that division between breweries is not so cut and dry. In 1998, it was a lot easier to determine that a brewery with a brewer-owner brewing in 10-barrel batches was a craft brewer. At 30,000 barrels then a different sort of brewery emerges – and they’re in a different league. At 100,000 barrels, a company is playing a totally different sport. That 2 million barrel breweries were included as “craft brewers” seemed to understand craft brewing in a way most of wouldn’t consider authentic, but in 2011, the criteria was expanded to 6 million barrels – which is enough kegs lined end to end to cross the US back and forth two and a half times. That’s definitely contrary to the spirit of any honest criteria of craft brewing that we’ve had.
When pressed for a definition, I usually suggest that craft brewing isn’t binary – a company is or is not – but more a matter of degree. And to be most accurate, those brewers who ascended into RateBeer upper echelons are the most craft regardless of their size, ownership and ingredients. They’ve won RateBeer awards because of their skill in art and artisanship – they are master craftspersons. Craft brewers par excellence.
The “craft” in craft beer referred to craftsmanship or artisanship. The term itself makes a claim that this label refers to something more qualitative based on the skill, process and time of the brewer.
Unlike at other awards festivals, there are actually relatively very few large brewers who win RateBeer awards. This is in large part due to our Hedonic scoring system, which isn’t going to change.
The other reason, as shared with me by a former BA officer, is that dollar amounts of sponsorship are associated with medal counts because some top sponsors helped determine new medal categories. RateBeer has never done this, and there is zero intention or even motive for In Bev to make these changes at RateBeer. In this way, RateBeer remains the most connoisseur-focused and objective of all national and international beer awards programs.
The board also intends to form a political action committee that is aimed at more aggressively lobbying for permanent federal excise tax cuts that currently save craft brewers upwards of $80 million annually.
When I signed on to help craft beer, and we certainly did tremendous work, I certainly didn’t sign on to launch a class war against poor people. Unfortunately, this is where we are in 2018. The BA-sponsored idea in the last Republican Tax Bill was s to maintain beer excise revenue by cutting costs on beer for people who tend to be in higher socioeconomic groups and maintaining or increasing costs on buyers of lesser means (buyers from very large brewers, full disclosure: of which AB InBev is one.). I really don’t know how I feel about helping billionaires gain toeholds in international markets at the expense of both small brewers, against whom they will also be competing and enjoying greater advantages of scale, and poor consumers, who will pick up the additional tax weight.
Good point. I think for some of our craft brewers that are very large and sell by the case, they’re at a scale where this tax change could make a real difference. But as you mention, the effect isn’t the same at all for a brewery selling much more expensive half-barrels at much smaller volumes. I think that’s where I find this kind of definition and policy most problematic – it equates these brewers when the advantages are clearly skewed toward one side. After all these breweries classes are or will compete with each other for tap handles and shelf space.
Maybe somewhere in this there’s a bit of our Founding Fathers when they decided to tax the small farmer/craft distillers out of business while encouraging the larger/commercial distillers. Whiskey rebellion!
But the thing is, no one sees it. The definition of craft being used is so warped that everyone thinks Stone and Hill Farmstead are similar types of craft breweries whereas the reality is that they are not in the same league and hardly even the same sport. The business issues facing each are entirely different.
The BA’s definitions continue to obfuscate the fact that some craft breweries comprise a new class of brewer, more likely to compete with small brewers for tap handles and shelf space than a Big Beer brewer.
Everyone thinks HF and Stone are similar breweries? Isn’t that a bit of overstatement? Would you say HF is hurting from the Stone and the similar breweries? Or is it another way around? If you know some place HF is picking up dust at please do share.
Not sure where does these BA rants come from, but they do sound like BS from over here. Craft was about separating the bad guys from the good guys. It was never about craftsmanship. It was about kicking the guys who had the money and power to disrupt the market out of the playground. It’s BAs way of kicking the bullies out of the playground, free market will take care of the rest.
Let me get this straight. You’re complaining because BA is actually lobbying for their members? Something big beer has been doing for years and in a vile way from what I hear. Which resulted in almost destroying the beer culture in US. What’s next? Should we praise the AB for giving cheap beer to the poor?
You sound a bit like Trump and that’s not a compliment.
The BA is definitely not freeing the market from breweries that have bullying power, in fact it’s doing the opposite now. Whereas the protective and lobbying efforts to level the playing field made sense before, when there was a clear line between craft and Big Beer, now billion dollar companies are in the same BA tier as mom and pops. The Independent seal and BA-sponsored Republican tax bill campaigns have worked in the opposite direction – equating billion dollar independent companies with mom and pops.
A small mom and pop is much more likely to lose a tap handle or shelf space to a half million barrel craft brewer than to Big Beer. Sure, those large international craft brewers are working on two sides – against Big Beer for position at mass market retailers and against small mom and pop breweries at craft beer bars and boutique bottle shops. Is the free market enough to take care of it? Or do the large craft breweries need help from the BA, even if this support hurts small mom and pops?
OK, let me ask how many billion dollar craft beer companies are out there? And what are the numbers showing for big/national craft? Are they growing? And by how much compared to 5 years ago?
I think it’s quite the opposite. National craft is taking hits from both sides.They cannot compete the big beer prices or the small local brewers quality. And from what I hear numbers are showing that.
Also more questions arise.
Where are those taps and shelf space mom and pops breweries are fighting for? If mom and pop are making great beer they’ll have a line outside their brewery and won’t have to fight for shelf space in a supermarket. I think way more mom and pops breweries are hurt by big beer sponsored laws (especially in some parts of country) than by national craft.
What happens if BA somehow pushes national craft away? With their influence, with the money needed to run the operation, with the numbers which seem to be influenced by sell outs anyway?
I don’t know much about the way BA is operating but I was under impression small craft was included in decision making.
One problem is that many (most?) of the new small breweries need either a restaurant or at least lots of local distribution. For the ones without the kitchen, sometimes food carts fill the gap on dragging people in, but there’s no food profit for the brewery in that. So it’s back to distribution for many. Good news is “local” is now important to even grocery chains. But that’s where the big craft can diminish shelf space. I’d hope big craft would increase the customer base rather than hog shelf space. From my limited view I think Stone and Sierra Nevada move that way. But when Big Beer buys craft and puts their acquisition on taps and shelves, I don’t think that’s good for the up and coming folks.
This all makes sense to me. I certainly feel that the craft breweries that are going mass market are running into competition from a few of Big Beer’s acquired brands. As a lover of great beer, and of healthy beer economies, I feel this is good competition. Eventually, we’ll see a few more million barrel multinational conglomerates like Lagunitas-Heineken, Firestone-Boulevard-Duvel-Moortgat or Founder’s-Maghou-San Miguel, as Boston Beer, Sierra Nevada, Stone Brewing, Oskar Blues, New Belgium work out their international strategies. This is all good and healthy competition.
For all the hand-wringing and fear going on over Big Beer’s plays in the market, an experienced industry watcher has to wonder why. If Big Beer, which was in a far more advantageous position 20 years ago, then how has the craft beer market emerged globally and beyond anyone’s wildest dreams? Those fearful believe Big Beer has been in control of the market the whole time, but then this couldn’t be true or the craft beer boom never would have happened.
Truth is it would have happened way sooner and much easier. But I guess even big bucks can’t change the fact they’re selling good old piss.
Just a disclaimer: I have a problem all this coming from you Joe. I wasn’t the one to judge RB AB Inbev move too harshly, tried to see thing from your perspective. However these statements just don’t feel right to me. Not sure if what you’re saying is official RB stance, but I don’t feel comfortable contributing to the site which is bashing BA cloaked with the concern for mom and pop breweries. You had to do what you had to do, but leave it be man.
With our 3-tier system it was easy in the beginning for Big Beer to nearly control distribution. Hypothesis: That control became vulnerable when their preferred/controlled distributors declined to pick up small/craft beer (likely partially due to perceived inadequate profit) which would be a pain in the neck compared to one shitty beer fits all - and especially when Big Beer discouraged branching out. But there was an inherent vulnerability. There were distributors distributing alcohol who were happy to pick up a beer sideline. Big Beer didn’t have them controlled. And to some extent not-so-Big Beer was more interested in expansion than control (Coors some decades ago?). Take a look at all the brands DBI distributes.* If Big Beer had been on the ball things would likely have been a lot different.