In a time when Big Beer consolidation continues to tick off the American beer industry and its consumers, not-for-profit trade group the Brewers Association (BA) has launched a way to fight back: an Independent Craft Brewer seal intended to differentiate “craft” and “non-craft” beer companies and products in the marketplace.
The independent craft brewer seal is designated for brewing companies who meet the BA’s definition of craft brewers, which the BA defines as small, independent, and traditional. Additional qualifications include valid notice from the Tax and Trade Bureau, and signing a license agreement with the BA.
The independent brewer seal comes at a time when the definition of “craft” beer is under scrutiny as global brewers, namely Anheuser-Busch InBev, purchase previously small and independent brewing companies — Golden Road, 10 Barrel, and, most recently, Wicked Weed — which continue to appear as craft beer on the shelves.
The BA believe such consolidation blurs the line between craft and non-craft beer, making it difficult for consumers to determine what breweries and beers are independently produced versus those brewed by global companies.
This should make many beer drinkers happy. According to a recent study conducted by Nielsen (commissioned by beer industry publication Brewbound), results showed that the terms independent and independently owned were important to about 81 percent of craft-beer drinkers.
But not all breweries that aren't Big Beer win here. Some mid-sized operations won't make the cut for the label. Founders, which is 30 percent owned by Mahou San Miguel, a large brewery based in Spain, is not considered a craft brewer by the Brewers Association. However, other breweries that rely on private equity, like Cigar City, Oskar Blues and Perrin, all of which receive investment from private equity group, Fireman Capital Partners, are eligible to use the seal. Additionally, breweries owned by other small brewers, such as Ommegang, Firestone Walker and Boulevard (which are owned by Duvel Moortgat, a family-owned brewery based in Belgium), are considered craft and are eligible to use the seal.
“Beer lovers are interested in transparency when it comes to brewery ownership,” says Bob Pease, Brewers Association president and CEO. "This seal is a simple way to provide that clarity — now they can know what’s been brewed small and certified independent."
Allagash founder and BA board member Rob Tod agrees: “When beer lovers buy independent craft beer, they are supporting American entrepreneurs and the risk-takers who have long strived not just to be innovative and make truly great beer, but to also build culture and community in the process.”
Look out for the independent craft brewer seal on brewery packaging, marketing collateral, websites, tap handles, menus, and other materials. For those beers without it, well, for now, do your homework and see where their funding comes from (here’s a handy cheat sheet for you).