After years of contemplating what craft beer is or isn’t, it seems appropriate to begin the year with a new definition of craft beer.
If you’re a fan of craft beer, you probably often ask yourself, what is craft beer? While the answer should be simple, the beer industry has become so complex and convoluted that many of us struggle to provide a clear definition. It seems like redefining craft beer is necessary. But where do we begin?
What Is Faux Craft Beer?
The term craft beer probably means something slightly different to everyone. And for that reason, it becomes more of a personal opinion than a specific type of beverage. However, we all use it so frequently that you would think we would agree on its meaning.
The “official” definition of craft beer is the one provided by the Brewers Association. This definition has evolved to focus not only on the “what” or “how” of the beer but also on the brewery ownership. In other words, the definition depends more on who owns the brewery rather than the type or quality of beer.
For those who aren’t obsessed with craft beer, this definition is difficult to understand because it has very little to do with the actual beer itself. And that is confusing.
However, confusion about what craft beer is not a new issue. Many of us can easily recall a time when restaurants had two categories for beer – domestic and import.
Consumers were led to believe that anything that wasn’t an American Lager should be grouped into a single category. Imports, faux craft beer, American craft beer, etc., were all given a small section in grocery stores and their own list at restaurants. This caused craft beer to be associated more with the style than any other factors.
ACE Craft Beer Equipment
The Current Craft Beer Definition
As the craft beer movement gained momentum, craft beer came to mean higher quality, stronger flavor, and a variety of styles. Many people also began associating craft beer with the concept of being local as a way to define it.
So regardless of the brewery’s size, if it was local, it was considered craft. However, for larger brands, the definition was still largely tied to the type of beer they produced.
Being defined by style wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. However, it meant that large breweries could easily be labeled as craft simply by brewing (or acquiring) specific beers. As a result, the Brewers Association continuously adjusted their definition to focus more on the structure of the company.
The goal was to promote what they believed to be “real” craft beer. However, for those closely involved in the industry, it was easy to see how the beer world was becoming increasingly confusing.
Craft Beer Confusion
In 2011, AB-InBev (Budweiser) acquired Goose Island. Since then, there has been a wave of “craft” breweries selling to large corporations. These acquisitions sparked an ongoing debate about what craft beer is or isn’t.
Breweries that were once considered craft are now owned by huge corporations. As a result, the Brewers Association no longer classifies them as “craft.” Enthusiasts reacted by vowing never to drink their beer, scrutinizing the quality, and pointing out unethical business practices.
While AB-InBev made most of the acquisitions, MillerCoors, Heineken, and other brands also joined in.
To help identify “real” craft beer, the Brewers Association introduced their Independent Craft Brewery Seal. This logo was only given to breweries that met their “craft” definition.
But amidst all of this, the average beer consumer seemed oblivious. They continued to drink beer they enjoyed regardless of who made it. The beer style remained the most prominent factor by which consumers identified craft beer.
To make matters even more confusing, Ballast Point went from being independent to being owned by Constellation (think Corona), and recently returned to independence. And in 2020, New Belgium, one of the most respected independent craft breweries, is being sold to a large corporation.
We are simply waiting for the next acquisition that will shake up the beer world.