What Exactly Is Craft Brewing?

You’ve heard of it, you’ve drunk it – it’s craft beer! Yes, craft beer, brewed by that small shop down the road that serves five different beers off their tap leaving you to wonder how they pay the bills.

Or maybe it’s that gigantic brewer that seems to dominate your city’s beer market.

Either way, it’s craft brewing!

It can be difficult to peg down exactly what a craft brewery is. After all, some of the smaller brewers in your area might not even be craft.

As it turns out, the Brewers Association has three criteria for a brewery to be considered “craft”: size, ownership and style.

More specifically, a craft brewery must be small, independent and traditional. As you’ll quickly find out, that barely even means anything. Let’s break down what it means to be small, independent and traditional.

What Does “Small” Mean To The Brewers Association?

Your definition of small and the Brewers Association’s definition of small are probably a little different. When I think of small, I think of a brewery that only produces beer to serve a modestly sized area – sort of like a microbrewery.

When the Brewers Association thinks of small, they think of brewery that creates 6 million barrels of beer or less each year – in other words, enough to make up three percent of all US beer sales.

So, if there’s a brewery near you that single-handedly produces enough beer to make up three percent of the entire beer industry in America, then they’re on the right track to be craft.

But wait, why so large? After all, when you talk about America, three percent is a pretty sizable amount for one business. Just imagine other businesses that might command three percent of an entire industry. I think anyone would want to hold control of three percent – that can mean tens of millions of dollars in revenue.

However, the beer industry in America is strange since it’s largely dominated by Anheuser-Busch InBev, the largest beer producing company in the world, and other brands like Molson Coors and Constellation. So three percent for a little guy is pretty little – and pretty impressive.

That brings us to the Brewers Association’s second requirement…

What Does “Independent” Mean To The Brewers Association?

Independent does not necessarily mean that the brewery is self-owned. According to the Brewers Association, less than 25 percent of the brewery can be owned by an alcoholic beverage company that isn’t a craft brewery.

So, if a craft brewery buys a craft brewery, both are still craft breweries.

If AB InBev buys a craft brewery (or at least 25 percent of it), then it is no longer a craft brewery.

This is a big reason why that brewery down the road from you might not actually be craft.

There are plenty of “small” breweries that are actually owned by AB InBev (since they’re the biggest player out there, I’ll pick on them). Because they’re owned by a giant alcohol company, they aren’t craft.

If Jack Daniels bought a craft brewery, that brewery would also lose their status.

Here’s the neat thing: according to the Brewers Association’s guidelines, some mega-business like Apple could buy a craft brewery…and it would still be a craft brewery.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the annual $899 iBeer.

What Does “Traditional” Mean To The Brewers Association?

This definition is more for the spirit of craft brewing.

To be traditional, a craft brewery needs to create a majority of its beers “whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients in their fermentation.”

They do state that flavored malt beverages aren’t considered beers, so put down that White Claw. It isn’t a beer.

Beers need to be made traditionally to be traditional..unless they’re made through nontraditional techniques. If that’s the case, they’re still traditional, so long as they aren’t flavored malted beverages (aka not beer).

Basically, any beer made the way beer is made is crafty enough.

What Does A Craft Brewery Look Like Then?

Craft breweries might not have looked like what we expected them to look like. But let’s do something fun…

Let’s create a craft brewery!

Here it is: our brewery is 20 owned percent by Apple, 20 percent by AB InBev, 20 percent by Amazon, 20 percent by Delta Airlines and 20 percent by Grammy-nominated singer Katy Perry.

Our craft brewery produces exactly 3 million barrels of beer each year. We produce some awful lager, some disgusting IPA, some gross pilsner and a putrid porter.

And guess what? We’re certified craft!

All jokes aside, the point of these stipulations for craft brewing is to keep it small, keep it morally sound, and keep it fresh. If you ever have a doubt as to whether a brewer near you is craft, be sure to do your research.

Support craft! Or don’t, whichever you prefer. Just know the difference and spread the good word!

Thomas Short
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