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Brewers Association Independent Craft Seal and Why it Matters

 

Brewers Association Independent Craft Seal

Craft beer fans rejoice! The industry has made big steps this week to be a little bit more transparent, thanks to the Brewers Association Independent Craft Seal.

 

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I’m sure we’ve all been there. You’re strolling down the beer aisle at the grocery store wondering which craft beer to try next. You easily eliminate the latter half of the aisle stocked with Bud Light, Coors, and Lone Star, but still, so many options await you.

Do you choose based on your favorite style of beer?

Or maybe your allegiance lies with beers from certain regions or states?

And we won’t be the ones to judge if you’re selecting your brew based on the attractive packaging (bright colors always get us y’all)!

But then there’s another category that many die-hard, tried-and-true craft beer fanatics factor in: brewery ownership.

Beers your friends may have recommended, such as Wicked Weed’s Imperial Coolcumber or Karbach’s Lemon and Ginger Radler, may appear seemingly innocent, but in reality are owned by The Man, the Dark Lord, He Who Must Not Be Named…or as we like to call him, AB InBev.

Breweries owned by non-craft conglomerates, such as AB InBev or MillerCoors, are attempting to prey on unassuming, unknowledgeable consumers by persuading them into believing their brands are true, independent craft beer. And it’s working.

One could argue that the recipes haven’t changed once these breweries were bought out. The beer was craft before being bought out by AB, and the beer’s still craft today.

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Ok, cool. The recipe might not have changed, and in a blind taste test, it might still be great beer (key word here is might). But we’re not giving a penny of our hard earned money to AB Inbev, so they can continue using those pennies to lobby for laws that crush real independent brewers. We enjoy craft beer for dozens of reasons, but one of them is because we’re friends with the brewers, their families, and in some cases their dogs. Thus, we see the true labor of love and sacrifice.

We want to support small businesses, drink local, AND have good beer without being tricked into buying something that we think fits the bill.

We’ve been duped before. Even though we run a beer blog, we don’t catch EVERY piece of beer news, especially when it’s from out of state. We were approached by a brewery and offered us a gang of beer and swag. They wanted us to enjoy half and give the other half away to y’all – our craft-drinking readers. Cool, right?

Nope. This brewery was bought out by Miller Coors a few months before sending us the goods, and none of us realized it until one of our savvy followers on IG shot us a link.

Sticking to our guns, we emailed the brewery back and said thanks but no thanks. The stuff was already in the mail, so we silently gave the whole haul to one of Tony’s friends. No blog post. No IG post. Not a single mention of it until now. (Not our proudest moment either, but it helps paint a vivid picture as to why this matters.)

Big beer is a monopoly. While they control a vast majority of the market, they’re losing ground little by little each year as more and more consumers wise up and seek something better.

AB didn’t get to be the big dog by just sitting on the porch, though. Taking action, they’re buying up great breweries around the country and bringing them into their fold, while many folks in the beer aisle are none-the-wiser.

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Our founders Tony and Chris tell a few stories of harassing (or educating) people in the beer aisle. Here’s one of the text messages that inspired this post,

But fear not my loyal compatriots, my beer purists! The Brewers Association, a non-profit trade group standing proudly for small and independently-owned breweries, recently released their killer clap back to your grocery store dilemma: an independent craft brewer seal. Hopefully we can quit hounding people now!

The seal, shaped like an upside down beer bottle, will help beer lovers determine which beers are truly independently owned, rather than corporately managed by companies like AB Inbev, Miller Coors, and the likes. The seal’s design symbolizes how the U.S. craft beer movement has literally turned beer on its head worldwide.

The Brewers Association shared this in their press release about the seal,

Independence is a hallmark of the craft brewing industry, and it matters to the brewers who make the beer and the beer lovers who drink it. A recent study commissioned by Brewbound and conducted Nielsen found that 'independent' and 'independently owned' strongly resonated with the majority (81 percent) of craft beer drinkers. Increasingly, they are looking for differentiation between what’s being produced by small and independent craft brewers versus Big Beer and acquired brands. Beer drinkers, especially Millennials, expect transparency when it comes to their food and beverages. That transparency and underlying ownership can drive their purchase intent.

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(Brewers Association Independent Craft Seal mocked up on packaging)

The Brewers Association Independent Craft Seal will not only assist consumers with differentiating between craft and corporate, but it celebrates the traditional craft beer ideals of independence and creativity. And anyone who tries to argue brewing isn’t an art form, clearly has never attempted to create delicious masterpieces with ONLY four basic ingredients (hops, yeast, grain, and water).

Quite possibly the best part about the seal is it’s price to breweries…free ninety nine! Scooore!

However, brewers must qualify under the following requirements:

1. Valid TTB Brewer’s Notice- legally necessary for selling beer
2. Meet the Brewers Association’s craft brewer definition
3. Sign a licensing agreement

Number two on that list is how we can wickedly weed out the craft impostors.

The Brewers Association defines craft brewers as small (6 million barrels or less per year), independent (less than 25% of the brewery is owned by a non-craft brewer), and traditional (a majority of the beer is brewed using traditional or innovative ingredients).

While this small seal of independence may not seem massively impactful, step back and take a gander at craft brewers’ market share.

According to the Brewers Association, “small and independent craft brewers represent 99% of the over 5,300 breweries in the United States, yet they make just 12% of the beer sold in the country”. As the intelligent consumer we know you to be, we genuinely hope you’ll utilize the seal as a tool to separate Big Beer from beloved, craft beer (besides the obvious indicator of taste).

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And while we wish the story ended here, in true villain fashion, Big Beer strikes back!

AB InBev’s craft beer division, AKA The High End, released a scintillating video late last week responding to the news of the independent brewers’ seal. And wouldn’t-ya-know-it, they just so happen to be opposed to transparent, truthful advertising!

The video features interviews with members of former independent, craft breweries who sold out…I mean, leveraged resource opportunities, to the ABeer Devil himself.

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One such brewer, Garret Wales of 10 Bottle Brewing, insists “at the end of the day, the beer does the talking, not the label on the package, and the consumer makes up their own mind. The problem is that the BA [Brewers Association] continues to refuse to let the consumer make up their own mind.”

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Walt Dickinson of Wicked Weed doesn’t take aim at the label itself but rather claims, “we’re fighting this bigger battle, which is wine and spirits” Similarly, Andy Ingram of Four Peaks is ready to fight the good fight against all our favorite liquors. “There are clear threats from wine and spirits out there” Ingram insists.

These are breweries that we loved and respected at one time, so we definitely have an open mind. That said, it’s hard not to laugh and shoot beer out of your nose when you hear some of this commentary.

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The most laughable comes at the very end of the video when Elysian Co-Founder David Buhler says, “To be independent means you don’t put the logo on because you’re Indi. So to be truly punk, you don’t use the logo. You do your own thing. You follow your own rules.” He laughs while he’s saying it, almost as if to say he knows he’s full of it. The Brewer’s Association independent craft seal isn’t about garage punk bands, and to make that comparison is Big Beer propaganda at its finest.

It all feels super canned. You can see it for yourself here on Draft Magazine.

Where do you land in the battle of the beers? Will you keep an eye out for the Brewers Association’s seal of craft approval?

And to all our brewer friends in town, are you joining the (currently) 904 breweries including BAKFISH? Let us know in the comments. (Craft) beers to you, Houston! 🍻

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