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Independence and strength in numbers

Yes, I like drinking craft beer. But no, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I want my beer to consist mostly of hops and puréed fruit. This is roughly the tenor of the conversations sometimes between me and the “traditional” beer-drinkers among my friends. And sooner or later we then come to the same thought – more or less the key question in the craft beer sector: when is a beer a “craft beer”? And who decides this?

One organisation that, for the USA’s market at least, deserves a hearing on this question is the Brewers Association (BA). And because the disparities in size between different US breweries are so incredibly large, for the BA it’s not only the “craft” aspect that plays a role, but also the independence of those brewers who do not belong to a large beverage conglomerate, but – to put it emotively – embrace the spirit of the craft beer movement. Accordingly, the criteria of the Brewers Association for independent craft brewers on the USA’s market are:

a) Size or output of the brewery – this has to be less than six million barrels (i.e. below seven million hectolitres) a year,

b) Independence: only less than 25 per cent may be owned by or under the control of a company that is not itself a craft brewery.

In addition,

c) the brewery concerned has to be an appropriately registered business and produce beer.

Point c) is relatively obvious. In the case of a) and especially b), however, things get rather more difficult – not least for the consumer. After in recent years quite a number of the initially independent craft breweries in the USA had been bought up by sizeable companies of the beverage industry, you see, it’s no longer quite as easy to stay abreast of which brewers are currently still truly independent.

For some time now, the Brewers Association has been providing support on precisely this point – with the “Independent Craft” label. On the website of the Brewers Association, both brewers and their vendors can apply for the label, with which they can then identify themselves as independent craft brewers. It is thus easier for the beer-drinker to recognise which beers are really still coming from small, innovative, risk-embracing breweries.

And on the website there is another function that I as a consumer find rather useful (and one that I’ve already spent quite a lot of time on): the search mask “Is it a craft brewery?”, which succinctly informs you that the Tivoli Brewing Company, for example, meets the criteria of the Independent Craft Label.

Meanwhile, by the way, over 4,400 breweries are already displaying the label. According to the Brewers Association, that’s more than 85 % of all potential candidates for the accolade – this confirms the relevance of the label and at the same time demonstrates the community thinking behind it: the “little guys” in the US beer industry are joining forces to embrace and assure their independence, their craft skills and their creativity.

And in Germany? There, I at least am not aware of any equivalent initiative – something that’s doubtless attributable to the entirely different structure of the beer sector. Which is why I will continue to be discussing with my friends whether the family-managed brewery from the next village is a “craft brewery”, even if in the last 70 years it has never brewed anything other than a light ale.

But I’m looking forward to hearing your opinions: would you like to see a similar concept for the German market? What do you think would be the determinant criteria?


Source of all images: https://www.brewersassociation.org/independent-craft-brewer-seal/

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