The Mark of Independence

Independence is in the air. The Fourth of July is upon us and this past week the Brewers Association rolled out a brand new seal that indicates if a craft beer you are drinking is actually craft or just “crafty.” The seal is being offered free of charge to any brewery that meets the BA’s definition of a craft brewery in terms of size, ownership, and ingredients used. The brewery doesn’t have to even be a BA member to use the seal and the BA hopes that soon you will see it popping up on packaging, labels, tap handles and at independent breweries themselves.

From the Brewers Association

So, what does the upside down bottle mean? Bob Pease, the president and CEO of the BA, explained it recently to Hop Culture.

What the image stands for is what we think matters. It stands for how America’s small and independent craft breweries have turned the industry upside-down.

As to the response from breweries, Pease said:

We had 600 breweries in the first day sign the licensing agreement and download the art…and that’s increasing by the second. We have no benchmark to compare that to, but we’re thinking that’s pretty strong.

Met with mostly positive feedback, one brewery was not into the idea of the new seal. Notch Brewing Co. out of Salem, Mass, tweeted this in response:

This is an interesting point by Notch Brewing and one that one can assume is pointed at Boston Beer, owner of Sam Adams. Boston Beer is the only independent brewing company that is publically traded. The other publically traded “craft” brewery is Craft Beer Alliance (which owns Widmer and Kona) which sold 32.2% of it’s company to AB InBev in 2013. In 2010, the BA changed the definition of what craft beer is to include breweries that produced up to 6 million barrels from 2 million barrels. This change was made to keep Boston Beer in the craft-beer-fold because the BA felt it was important for craft beer to hold onto Boston Beer’s market share. While this does raise the question whether or not, at its immense size, Boston Beer needs the benefits afforded by the BA, it does still technically fit the definition so will be able to use the emblem if they wish…until they reach 6 million barrels of production. In 2016, they sold just over 4 million so they have a little while before they hit that limit.

The High End’s Response

One day after the BA released the seal, the president of the High End (AB InBev’s craft beer division) wrote this Op-Ed piece for the Chicago Tribune entitled, ‘Big beer’ working with craft brewers: What’s the argument? In it, he laments that when Big Beer buys out a smaller company people are misunderstanding the true situation.

Yet increasingly we hear ludicrous claims that big beer companies are on a mission to destroy the craft brewing industry — that we are shutting down growth, eliminating choice. These claims are totally divorced from reality.

We rightly celebrate the technology companies that have led the digital revolution. Facebook, Google, Apple and others have helped turn garage innovators into household names. Why should the beer business be any different?

The verdict on craft beer will be made by consumers. No amount of distribution or promotion will keep a substandard beer on the shelf.

While some might take issue with the first two portions of this quote, especially his desire for AB InBev to be celebrated for its accomplishments in the same way Google or Apple has been, the last part is undeniably true. The verdict on craft beer will be made by consumers and with the seal that was just introduced by the BA, now consumers will have a much clearer idea which beers have remained independent and which ones chose to “partner” (using the term from the op-ed, though others might call it a buy-out) with Big Beer.

What It Means For Us

Here at Thorn Brewing, we are excited about the seal. We have been talking about the importance of transparency in ownership of breweries for a couple of years now and this is a step in the right direction. If you care, this helps you know that the beer you are drinking is actually indie beer and not big beer in craft-beer-clothing. If you don’t care, then it will have no impact on you at all. That’s really the beauty of an indie beer seal. It’s there to help the people who are interested, but those that want to drink their beer without worrying about ownership will still be able to do that with no hindrance. People will still buy Lagunitas, Golden Road, and St. Archer and because of the benefits afforded to them by their parent companies, their beers will still be distributed far and wide. But for the littler guys (and a few bigger craft breweries), this means that now there is an easy way to tell if the beer you are drinking is still independent. Look for this emblem to pop up on Thorn beer marketing, production info and at our brewery soon.

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