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Brewers Association Waters Down Meaning Of Craft Beer

on 12/05/14 at 8:25 am


imagesThink you know what craft beer is? Since the last time you checked, the meaning has probably changed. Increasingly, the industry is making exceptions to the definition to accommodate big breweries.

There was once a time when it was easy to throw around the term “craft beer” and know exactly what you were talking about. For decades, craft was the way to differentiate small, independently owned breweries – and the beer they make – from the brewing giants like Coors, Budweiser and Pabst Blue Ribbon.

But the line separating craft brewers from large multinational companies is growing blurrier. Small breweries are transforming into big ones, while big breweries are masquerading as small brands, selling “crafty” knockoff beers in an attempt to lure customers from the craft beer market.

Part of the confusion over what craft beer means has come from within the craft beer community itself. The Brewers Association, a Colorado industry group that serves as a voice for craft brewers, has changed its definition multiple times.

In February, the organization eliminated a long-standing requirement that a craft brewery must make at least half of its product, as well as its “flagship” beer, from only barley malt — not sugar from rice or corn, which large breweries commonly rely on to make thinly flavored lagers.

The amendment means Yuengling & Sons, Inc., the largest American-owned brewery, will soon join the Brewers Association’s voting membership as a “craft” brewery, according to Julia Herz, a spokeswoman with the association. She says the change also brought August Schell and Narragansett, and their respective flagship lagers, into the craft category.

But the change is not going over well with some producers already squarely in the craft category. Dan Del Grande, owner and brewer of Bison Organic Beer, based in Berkeley, Calif., feels the allowance of rice, corn and other alternative sugar sources as main ingredients in craft brewing will compromise the beer.

“I think the Brewers Association has watered down the meaning of craft beer, and of good beer,” he says.