'Craft' Beers That Aren't Really Craft
What is "craft beer," anyway? It's a complicated question, but one thing we know for sure is that you all are very thirsty, very opinionated drinkers when it comes to defining what a craft beer is, and isn’t.
There has been a lot of talk lately about what makes a craft beer "craft" and what disqualifies some beers from the category. And now, the answer is more convoluted than ever, thanks to the big breweries’ craft beer offshoots, ownership of smaller breweries, and barrel production. (After all, the founder of the country’s biggest craft brewery just became a billionaire.)
The trouble began brewing when Consumer Reports released a taste-test of craft beers, which included some beers owned by Anheuser Busch-InBev, MillerCoors, and other big breweries not considered to be craft breweries (those beers can be found on this list). Naturally, this enraged a lot of craft beer drinkers. Founder of Stone Brewing, Greg Koch, responded to the hubbub with a "keep the peace" plea to beer drinkers. In a letter to the public, Koch wrote that he realized that there was a lot of confusion of what craft beer means. "To be perfectly honest, the term hasn’t existed all that long, and it takes time for items like that to make it into the national lexicon," he wrote. "That’s what makes Consumer Reports devoting significant ink and page space to the largest growing segment of the American alcohol beverage industry so important."
Koch’s argument: most beers are better than "the watered down, corn- and rice-based 'beers' this country’s population has almost solely subsisted on for the better part of the past century." But many craft beer lovers want to know that what they’re drinking is in fact "craft" — which may explain a very detailed definition of what a craft brewer is from the Brewers Association. The main tenants of the Brewers Association’ definition: small, independent, and traditional. Craft brewers selling more than 6 million barrels of beer aren’t considered to be craft; to put that number in perspective, the Boston Beer Company, the largest craft brewery, is on track to sell 3 million barrels this year. "Independent" means that the brewery isn’t owned by a larger alcohol entity that isn’t a craft brewer (up to 25 percent of ownership, or equal equivalent), according to the Brewers Association. And as for "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 percent of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor," according to the Brewers Association. The goal behind such a detailed definition, by industry standards, is that it will weed the brewing conglomerates out of the craft beer market. And for good reason — when the big guys start trying to market their beers as craft brews (like you, Budweiser Black Crown), it pushes out the little guys from the shelves and taps.
Nonetheless, even Julia Herz of the Brewers Association has noted just as recently as last month that craft beer is "up to the drinker to discern." So really, does it matter whether the beer you’re obsessed with isn’t technically "craft"? We’ll let you be the judge of that. Still, if you’re one of those beer snobs who proudly proclaims to be obsessed with one of these beers on the list, you might want to change your tune — you’ll just look like an idiot.