Craft Beer used to be a term of endearment that separated the local small breweries from the mega-breweries. Just recently a judge threw out a lawsuit saying that there are definable standards for what is a ‘craft’ brew and allowed MillerCoors’ Blue Moon to be considered “craft beer”. Is the term “craft beer” not defined well enough or has it changed somehow in recent years because of the exponential growth of breweries nationwide?
Craft Beer doesn’t have a specific definition but the Brewers Association defines what a craft brewer is and who makes craft beer but a craft brewer? There are three words associated with a craft brewer – Small, Independent and Traditional. Small applies to “Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less“; Independent means “Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer“; and Traditional is “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“. So based on these craft brewer definitions, the judge basically said that you don’t have to be a craft brewery to make a craft beer.
Blue Moon has diversified its portfolio of beer flavors. I was in Walmart and noticed the big display of the Blue Moon Specialty packs that included their Belgian White, Chai Spiced Ale, White IPA and Cinnamon Horchata Ale. They’re getting creative with their additions because the smaller breweries proved that there’s unlimited flavors out there and it’s knocking the mega-breweries out of the park. If you can’t beat them, join them and attack from within. I saw Blue Moon makes an Agave Blonde Ale. Thomas, the headbrewer at Compass Rose Brewery, who makes an Agave Cream Ale had better watch out!
Budweiser introduced their “Brewmaster’s Small Batch Series” beers a few years ago. What do they consider a small batch – a measly 50bbls? They had their brewmasters come up with a beer idea in the styles that consumers want. Well hell, that means they must have gone down to the local brewery or bottle shop and checked out what’s selling well! It was a very diversified selection because they did their research all over the country coming up with different flavors, so would they be craft beer too? Do even the smallest of breweries have to worry that the mega-breweries are going to send evaluators (I don’t like the term “spies”) out to get beer ideas and brew it on a large scale as their own and call it craft?
The term “craft” used to differentiate between a local brewery and the mega-breweries. You knew you were getting something better than Bud or Miller Lite and now the definition is skewed and fuzzy. I would suggest using the term “local” like we always say “Drink Local…” because that would infer that you would get beer from your local brewery. The problem with that is anyone can spin local to fit their needs. The soon-to-be-closed MillerCoors plant in Eden was local to the residents of that area – brewed right up the street so then that’s considered local? Should we just keep adding terms to try and make it more specific – “local craft beer”, “locally owned and brewed crafted beer”, “local non-mega de-corporate kinda-Reinheitsgebot craft beer”? Unfortunately, adding local would disqualify breweries in other states that distribute to your local area, and even though they’re not NC beer, they’re still enjoyable and real craft just like ours.
No matter what label you put on it, it all comes down to what you drink and enjoy. You’ve been drinking Budweiser forever and nothing’s gonna change your mind, who am I to say that you NEED to drink beer from your local brewery? I’m not saying that if you did, the skies would open up, the choir would sing and you would experience euphoria with every sip (could happen). It would be great to have a giant budget to make a commercial that tells AB InBev and MillerCoors that they’re not craft, never will be and to get over it.