Craft v. Crafty — Beer Snobbery on Display

On the day of the tragedy in Connecticut, it’s irrelevant and trivial to think or talk about beer.  However, writing this helps to remove the horrific events from my mind—at least temporarily. Peace, comfort, and prayers to all of the families.

Beer Geekdom is abuzz. This time it’s not about an $85 six-pack, but a definition. Specifically, the definition of “CRAFT” beer.

Before we delve into the grisly details, let’s examine the environment.  For years, Big Beer (or macro) sales have been on the decline, while sales of small beer (micro or craft) sales have been growing rapidly.  Simply stated, consumers are learning about good beer. They’re discovering it, liking it, and buying  more of it. This fact has not gone unnoticed by Big Beer. They’ve responded by buying craft breweries and launching new brands such as Shock Top and Blue Moon.

The Brewers Association is an advocate for craft brewers. They’ve long defined "Craft" in a specific way (read the press release below for more details). This is the BA’s interpretation. There is no legal definition of a “craft” beer. It’s their opinion. Yesterday, the BA upped the ante when they accused Big Beer of “…deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers.”

The BA went a step further and published a list of non-craft brewers (shown below) to expose those attempting to sell beer under the “craft” banner. According to BA, those on the list are not “Craft”, but “Crafty”. The insinuation is the listed breweries are either producing an inferior product or attempting to deceive by inappropriately using the “craft” moniker.

In my opinion, the BA went a step too far.  This list is a disservice to beer drinkers. It also insults their intelligence. I fully understand that BA exists to support small (a relative term) brewers. But some of the breweries on this list make great beer. Widmer Brothers, part of Craft Brew Alliance, is one of the most innovative breweries around. Goose Island has introduced the Midwest to amazing beer. What are their crimes? They are partially or fully owned by Anheuser-Busch. 

I’m no fan of Big Beer and have long despised macro-lager. However, this list is silly and counter-productive because it assigns guilt by association. Frankly, the BA should thank these breweries. Shock Top and Blue Moon are gateway brands that ultimately bring macro beer consumers into the “craft” fold. Breweries such as Pyramid, Widmer, and Goose Island will firmly keep consumers in the "craft" fold for the long-term. 

The following statement was issued yesterday by Tenth & Blake, owner of Blue Moon and Leinenkugel:

“Anyone who visits Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin will understand the blood, sweat and tears that went into building that brewery, and they’ve continued brewing amazing beers for 145 years. And anyone who spends time chatting with Blue Moon Brewing Company founder and brew master Keith Villa will understand the passion and creativity that has gone into developing his Artfully Crafted beers for 17 years. To question the quality of these beers due to their size or success is doing a disservice to the entrepreneurs who created them, and to beer drinkers who love them. Most beer drinkers don’t get hung up on industry definitions, which often change. They just enjoy drinking great beer. Whether people call them craft or some other title is fine with us. We’ll just keep brewing great beer.” Tom Cardella, CEO of Tenth & Blake

I couldn’t agree more. At the end of the day, most people could probably care less about the craft v. crafty definition—and rightfully so. Explore beer, enjoy it, drink whatever you like, and most importantly, don’t be a beer snob!

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Craft vs. Crafty: A Statement from the Brewers Association

Boulder, CO • December 13, 2012—The Brewers Association, the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American craft brewers, issued the following statement regarding the increase in production and promotion of craft-like beers by large, non-craft breweries: 

An American craft brewer is defined as small and independent. Their annual production is 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

The community of small and independent craft brewers has grown as beer enthusiasts embrace new, diverse beers brewed by their neighbors and friends who are invested in their local communities. Beer drinkers are voting with their palates and dollars to support these entrepreneurs and their small and independent businesses.

In 2011, small and independent craft brewers saw their industry grow 13 percent by volume; in the first half of 2012, volume grew by an additional 12 percent. Meanwhile, the overall beer industry was down 1.3 percent by volume and domestic non-craft was down 5 million barrels in 2011. 

Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.

While this is certainly a nod to the innovation and ingenuity of today’s small and independent brewers, it’s important to remember that if a large brewer has a controlling share of a smaller producing brewery, the brewer is, by definition, not craft.

However, many non-standard, non-light “crafty” beers found in the marketplace today are not labeled as products of large breweries. So when someone is drinking a Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer, they often believe that it’s from a craft brewer, since there is no clear indication that it’s made by SABMiller. The same goes for Shock Top, a brand that is 100 percent owned by Anheuser-Bush InBev, and several others that are owned by a multinational brewing and beverage company.

The large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.

And for those passionate beer lovers out there, we ask that you take the time to familiarize yourself with who is brewing the beer you are drinking. Is it a product of a small and independent brewer? Or is it from a crafty large brewer, seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of small and independent craft brewers?

About the Brewers Association
The Brewers Association is the not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts. The Brewers Association (BA) represents more than 70 percent of the brewing industry, and its members make more than 99 percent of the beer brewed in the U.S. The BA organizes events including the World Beer Cup®, Great American Beer Festival®, Craft Brewers Conference & BrewExpo America®, SAVOR: An American Craft Beer & Food Experience and American Craft Beer Week®. The BA publishes The New Brewer magazine and its Brewers Publications division is the largest publisher of contemporary and relevant brewing literature for today's craft brewers and homebrewers. Beer lovers are invited to learn more about the dynamic world of craft beer at and about homebrewing via the BA's American Homebrewers Association. Follow us on Twitter.


  1. Great point about the macro craft brands being a stepping stone into BA's own flock.

    I read just a little time ago that BA put a lot of thought into this salvo. I think not. BA got pulled off their gameplan…a gameplan that is already working.

    BA's article is petty, tattle taling, negative, misguided, loosely defined, self serving (instead of beer community-serving), reactive instead of proactive, and a losing proposition (BA can't compete with big beer in this manner).

  2. I understand BA’s intent, but their “list” came across as a "low road" approach, in my opinion. Most of the pro arguments mostly center around transparency. Fair enough.

    However, if BA wants the Big Boys to improve their transparency, then BA and some of their members need to look in the mirror. In their press release defining what a "small" brewer is, BA didn't explain that they raised the threshold from 2 million barrels to 6 million barrels to accommodate one of their larger members. I expect we will continue to see this yardstick moving in the future as the larger “craft” brew companies rapidly grow.

    Also, Samuel Adams is playing the same game as Big Beer. They fully own Angry Orchards and Twisted Tea. If you look at the websites and bottle labels for both of these brands, they make no mention that they are part of the Boston Beer Co. (owner of Samuel Adams). So how is this any different than what Big Beer is doing? Not much—the only difference is Samuel Adams isn’t the big, bad wolf.


Thoughts? Tell me what you think.