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Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Difficulty Defining "Craft Brewery"

In case you missed this comment from my "I am a craft brewer" post, have a look. It highlights the trouble the Brewers Association has in trying to nail down which breweries qualify as "craft." A lovely and passionate defense of independent regional breweries:
"I was a craft brewer." That's the movie I want to make. Because, I was at one time, according to the BA and the video. But alas, I work for August Schell now, and we are not craft brewers (just ask the BA). Never mind the fact that we will celebrate our 150th year in 2010 as the second-oldest family owned brewery in the US. We survived prohibition, a Native American uprising that burned New Ulm to the ground, and the vanishing of regional breweries in the 70's and 80's. Forget the fact that we sold a tree on our grounds in the 80's to pay the bills. Discount that we brewed a German Pilsner and Weizen in 1986.

Because, the fact is, the bulk of our production uses corn as an adjunct. And even if you discount that beer, we would still produce a larger volume of non-adjunct beers than most of the top craft breweries. But hey, what does that matter?

No, I am not a craft brewer, and I'll happily be that for another 150 years.


David Berg
August Schell Brewing
I have written about this issue when A-B released American Ale (both here and here) and when the BA dumped Widmer/Redhook. This is definitely going to be an issue--and soon.


beerinator said...

Andy Crouch's blog has done quite a bit of discussion about this. You might find this post pretty interesting. I certainly did.

akahn said...

Good thing for these brewers that the numbers game doesn't matter for consumers. I like supporting small breweries but I buy what tastes good. If Sam Adams puts out a good beer (they have several in their lineup) I'll buy it occasionally, even though there are smaller regional breweries who I like to support. But I agree, it's foolish for the industry association to disincentivize growth.

Todd said...

I'm curious - has anyone had an August Schell's beer? I'd think if there any meaning to the term craft beer, it has absolutely nothing to do with production volume, or the use of adjuncts, even the dreaded flaked corn.

I have a hard time caring much about the craft debate - to me it has the feel of theological debate, or maybe more appropriately, pre-Enlightenment science. But I also don't think it's a bad idea to give some kind of award to brewers willing to make better beer that appeals to fewer consumers, even if it's just a nifty appellation.

dr wort said...

Schell puts out some excellent lagers. The Schell Pils was consider a unique classic by Michael Jackson some years ago. Their Bock and others are all very top shelf in quality.

I don't really care what their title is... They're producing a "CRAFT" product.

Generik420 said...

And that perfectly sums up why labeling is a bad idea. I enjoy the sentiment behind the video and I personally find most of the brewers portrayed in the video to be almost rock stars in my book. But I don't agree with the intent totally.

The response by David Berg is a perfect example of the problem here. For the past few years I have been a homebrewer and have studied brewing and the industry. I have seen numerous examples of how open brewers (both professional and amateur like myself) will be with each other in terms of sharing information, resources, etc. Just look back to last year's hop shortage and you will find stories of breweries rallying together to get through it as best they could. Look at all the collaboration brews showing up on the shelves lately. And then you get this video that basically paints a line between one group and another based on some term that nobody can really pin a true definition on.

Is it craft because they don't use adjuncts? Or because they don't sell as well as a mega brewer? Or do you no longer qualify to be craft because you let another company invest in your brewery so you could expand and serve more markets.

If it's good beer it shouldn't matter who brewed it. It's as simple as that.

Beerinator - nice link. Very interesting reading.

Anonymous said...

Hey Jeff-

Thanks for the kind words. It's kind of funny that my inability to navigate the internet probably got my message to more people than I intended.

Anyway, glad I found your blog. I lived in PDX in the mid 90's, and I miss it a lot. I'm from the old school, back when Portland Brewing was still on Flanders and Lucky Lab was just an infant.


David Berg

leftymn said...

I lived in Portland from 1979-1987 and witnessed the beginnings of craft brewing in PDX and the PNW and the wine industry in the Valley there, now I live in Burnsville MN, Schell's does brew some fine beers, and they were doing it as David said, for quite some time. In Lake Wobegone country we don't make a big deal out of things ya know, we just like an honest beer, be it Surly, Rush River,Summit Pale Ale or Schell's Pils. (or even Grain Belt Premium which goes pretty well when watching the Twins, even though it is pretty weak stuff, it is part of a tradition)

bcbrews said...

To define "Craft Brewery," how about looking at the definition of "craft?" One is, an activity involving skill in making things by hand. If that's the definition you adopt, then beyond a certain size, a brewery will no longer involve making beer by hand. It will be done completely by machinery.

However, if you define "craft" as being a skilled activity or profession, as in the brewer's craft, then size is irrelevant.

I think the fact that we now see a blurring of the dividing line is indicative of the success of craft beer. It may be time for BA to revisit its definition.

Nike Dunks said...

I don't really care what their title is... They're producing a "CRAFT" product.

Nike Dunks said...

I don't really care what their title is... They're producing a "CRAFT" product.

whymaniawhy said...

I live in Portland, OR but I grew up in MN and drank Schell beers (favorite is Schell Pils) in college. There were many small local brewaries making craft beers in the 80's in the upper Midwest. Another favorite is Milstream from Iowa near Iowa City. This was long before Portland and the PNW tried to claim that they invented craft brewing or the micro-brew. As an earlier poster said, we in the upper mid-west do our thing without self congratulation. Self aggrandizement and self congratulation are phrases I use much more often now that I live in Portland.

Jeff Alworth said...


I don't know that I'd go that far. Northwesterners understand our place in microbrewing history. We weren't the first, but we were among the most avid early-adopters. I think the hubris (perhaps justified) comes when we claim not to have invented microbrewing, but perfected it.

As to the demure upper midwest, you need to look east. Wisconsinites have proclaimed themselves the beer capital of the world for decades. And Milwaukee the center of American brewing. Even 50 years ago that was no more bluster than our own boosterism.

But you Minnesotans, you are definitely a demure lot. I'll give you that.

whymaniawhy said...

Until the Pacific Northwest starts producing something besides warm brewed English style ales, they certainly have NOT perfected the art of the micro brew. I'll puke if someone offers me another IPA or stout.

I wouldn't say that Wisconsinites as individuals are prone to beer bragging...they most assuredly were the volume leaders in beer production and consumption per capita. Due mostly to the ethnic groups that made up Wisconsin. But they're in general an understated lot.

I guess the NW self aggrandizement is something you would only notice if you came from farther east. The NW is a big disappointment for those who don't know how to adjust the hyperbole to fit reality.

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