With so many craft breweries out there, it has become almost impossible to tell which breweries are actually “craft” and which ones are not. As smaller breweries continue to grow and build market share, corporations like AB-InBev, are trying their best to maintain their market share, even preventing growth from smaller breweries (and thus competition and consumer choice) through monopolizing business practices*. AB-InBev and other corporations are making acquisitions of craft breweries to expand their portfolio and branding, and cloud the market so consumers have an illusion of purchasing craft, when they are really just buying AB-InBev products.
We need an understanding of where our hard earned cash is going when you buy that 6 pack off the shelf to make sure we are supporting the breweries we want to drink more from. We also want to make sure that cash isn’t going to line the pockets of “Big Beer” corporations that use business practices designed to undermine smaller breweries. If you are a discerning drinker and love supporting your local, small businesses in beer rather than sending your money to the “Big Beer” corporations, you need to be able to identify who’s who in the craft beer world.
Let me provide a real world example:
As I was browsing the beer aisle, I saw the above picture showing “collaborations” between Devil’s Backbone with Four Peaks, Breckenridge, Golden Road, and Elysian. A lot of craft breweries do collaborate with other craft breweries from across the US and the world, to put out some of the most unique beers, probably due to the creative juices that flow when you’re with other creative people. So at first glance, these beers look interesting, highlighting “COLLABORATION” on the label, with interesting uses of different ingredients. It’s also “BREWED IN THE VIRGINIA HEARTLAND”. Sounds local and “craft”-y right? But guess what, these are all ex-craft breweries recently acquired by AB-InBev. Every single one of them. They are collaborating with themselves. AB-InBev incest, anyone? This is clearly AB-InBev’s attempt at taking away market share from real craft breweries, muddying the waters of what is craft beer, and hoping to gain back the market share they’ve been losing. Those four beers are taking up space that another smaller brewery could be using.
So what is craft beer? According to the Brewer’s Association (BA), they are breweries that are small (<6 million barrels), independent, and explore and push flavor in beer through the use of traditional or innovative ingredients and fermentation. In addition, the BA recently developed an “Independent Craft Brewer” seal that members of the association can use on their beer labels to further enable consumers in identifying craft.
As another aid, I came across this Instagram post from @hopthirst who made a great graphic trying to clear up any confusion.
I love craft beer, and I love the craft beer community. In less than a year since starting this Instagram account, I've met tons of great people online and in person, visited dozens of breweries and bars in the U.S. and abroad, and definitely drank more than my fair share of incredible craft beer. While craft beer is growing, it's also under continuous attack from massive organizations like AB/InBev (Budweiser), making it difficult to stay on top of which breweries now are *actually* craft breweries and which are Big Beer drones. I recently got a message from Blue Point Brewing in New York asking if they could send me samples of their Hazy NE-Style IPA, and I said yes, only to realize after receiving the box and reading up that they too sold out to AB InBev in 2014. So now what? Send it back? Drink it? Post a pic or not? In the end, I settled on creating the image above, because it felt like the only honest thing to do. I won't purchase or promote a beer produced by AB InBev, Miller/Coors, or anyone else. I've deleted all images from my profile of "stealth craft" beers as well (thanks to @nodabrewing for permission to use this term, which they coined in their blog). As much as possible, I support local beer and local breweries. I also support other breweries that work within their communities as a small business to support the local economy and local community. I encourage you to SHARE THIS IMAGE, as a way of supporting craft beer. Cheers to good beer, good people, and a craft beer community that will continue to thrive in the face of adversity. Also worth noting that AB InBev has recently acquired Northern Brewer, a homebrew supply company. Tentacles in everywhere. #fightforcraft #pouritback **edit** I know I've missed some non-craft breweries here. If you have amendments to this list you'd like to add, please let me know in the comments or via email, and I'll add them to the blog post. Thank you! 🍻
Hope this helps you in identifying craft beer and cheers!
For more info on AB-InBev’s recent practices
- RateBeer Acquisition: http://goodbeerhunting.com/sightlines/2017/6/2/ratebeer-zx-ventures-acquisition-minority-stake-anheuser-busch-inbev
- Wicked Weed Acquisition: https://www.craftbeer.com/editors-picks/wicked-weed-brewing-acquired-high-end-ab-inbev
- AB-InBev won’t sell South African Hops to craft brewers: http://www.foodandwine.com/news/ab-inbev-cuts-south-african-hops-craft-brewers