Independence on Our Mind

Photo Credit: Brewers Association

With memories of fireworks still on our minds, it’s hard not to pause and think about the independent spirit that gave birth to America. This nation started as a country of free people set on determining their individual way, and it’s pretty much the same today. That spirit is ingrained deep in the soul of the 5,000 or so independent breweries that craft tasty liquids for their communities.

Last week the Brewers Association (BA) planted their flag in the ground to help consumers know if their beer is from an independent craft brewer. A new seal is available from the BA for breweries to include on their packaging to identify the beer as produced by an independent brewery. We think it’s a good idea as a marketing device because consumers who care about supporting independent breweries can now easily distinguish those beers on the shelf. Craft Brewers’ biggest advocate, Julia Herz, summarizes it this way, “The beer lover has a right to know when they’re purchasing a beer from an independent craft brewer or big beer. This seal will allow them to make their choice with a visual mark.”

So what is a Craft Brewer? The BA defines one as:

  1. Small: Production of fewer than 6 million barrels a year. That sure that seems like a lot, but AB-InBev is cranking out over 125 million BBLs a year just in America.
  2. Independent: No more than 25% may be owned by another alcoholic beverage maker that is not a craft brewer. So that means Lagunitas (Heineken), Ballast Point (Constellation Brands) and Founders (Mahou San Miguel) are no longer “Craft Brewers.”
  3. Traditional: The brewer must make its beer with “traditional or innovative” ingredients. That requirement has a lot of leeway and allows for counting independent breweries like Yuengling and Gambrinus (Shiner) as Craft Brewers.

It’s important to note that the BA determines who is a Craft Brewer, not what is Craft Beer. That is an important distinction. Who defines Craft Beer? You do. It’s up to consumers to decide for themselves what they enjoy and how they want to spend their beer money. As for us, we usually buy and consume beer we like without overthinking the ownership status of the brewery. But we’re usually buying beer from independent brewers, but sometimes Kendall just has to have a PBR (Pabst) or a Banquet Beer (Molson Coors). Brewery independence is important to us, but it’s not the most important thing. We’re still buying and enjoying beer from “non-independent” Lagunitas, Ballast Point, Founders and others. Although, we do spend most of our beer money in support of independent brewers, especially the fantastic local breweries of Middle Tennessee.

That being said, we usually don’t buy products from breweries owned by AB InBev. Two reasons: 1) We would rather give my money to other companies, and 2) most of the craft brands they’ve purchased are not making the kind of beer we want to drink. Overall, it’s pretty uninspiring stuff. We didn’t drink those brands before they were acquired and we’re not going to start now. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, in this case, Goose Island and Wicked Weed. We’ve always enjoyed the top-end beers from GI, like Matilda, Lolita, and BCBS. The bigger pickle for us is Wicked Weed. We’ve always been big fans, and it’s nice being just four hours from Asheville. Kendall just picked up two six-packs of Napoleon Complex last week in Asheville. We’ll probably continue to buy a little WW, but probably not as much as we used too.

Call us hypocrites, but we don’t have any qualms buying beer from Pabst, Molson Coors, Heineken or Constellation. We simply don’t think of them the same way as we do AB InBev. We don’t think AB InBev is evil, rather, they are just a global conglomerate maximizing profit and market share. And they are quite pernicious about it. We believe increasing shareholder value is far more important to them than anything else, even more so than the liquid in the tanks. Maybe we’re naive, but we feel those other big brewers care a little more about the beer. So for us, it’s not about who owns those companies; it’s about corporate strategy. Chris Herron, Creature Comforts CEO, wrote a fascinating analysis for Good Beer Hunting with his take on AB InBev’s course of action. We think he’s spot on.  

We’re not going to tell you what to drink, and more specifically, from what company to buy it. We’ll encourage you to drink good beer. Most importantly, drink the beer you enjoy. For us, that is mostly beer from Craft Brewers (per the BA definition), but not exclusively. If buying beer from Independent Craft Brewers matters to you, now you have an easy way to identify it. (That’s if Independent Craft Brewers play along and put the seal on their products. We suspect many will.)

Cheers!

(Edited 7/7/2017 to change MillerCoors to Molson Coors, who owned half of MillerCoors jointly with SAB Miller. Then SAB Miller was acquired by AB InBev, which then divested the US operations of Miller, selling it to Molson Coors. Got that? We’re not sure we do and we try hard to follow this stuff. Geez, it’s changing every day.)

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