Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Is Sam Adams a Craft Beer?

Clay Risen on the definition of "Craft Brewery":
According to the Beer Association, an industry group representing small brewers, a craft outfit makes less than 2 million barrels of suds annually, and 25 percent or less of it is owned or controlled by a non-craft brewer—i.e., MillerCoors or InBev.

Problem number one: any month now, the Boston Beer Company, the company that makes Sam Adams, will top 2 million barrels in annual production. Technically that will disqualify it as a craft brewery, even though Jim Koch, the founder of Boston Beer Co., is a godfather of the craft beer movement and a board member of the Beer Association.

Problem number two: in 2007 a brewery in Golden, Colorado called AC Golden started operations. AC Golden brews beer in small batches with local ingredients—including Colorado Native Lager, which you can only get in-state. Its beers have received respectable ratings on beeradvocate.com. It's got everything a promising craft brewer could want. But AC Golden is careful not to call itself a craft brewer, because, at least according to the Beer Association, it's not: it's controlled by MillerCoors, the second largest brewer in the country.

Sam Adams is a good solid beer, and it's a handy thing that it's distributed widely enough that it is often on tap at restaurants where the only other options are Budweiser and Coors. However, I haven't thought of it as a "craft beer" for ages... and while the number 2 million seems fairly arbitrary, it does seem there is something definitive about volume in the way the word "craft" is being used here.

However... it shouldn't be measured in total barrels of beer, but more in a "barrels per batch" kind of way. That way, a craft brewery wouldn't be fine expanding it's operations by releasing a larger number of offerings and upping it's overall output... but discouraged from moving towards mass production... which I think is the real point of "craft beer" status.

On point two, frankly I don't care about who has ownership stake... while I don't like the idea of InBev just putting a smaller brew kettles next to the gigantic ones and calling it a "craft beer"... it seems like you could shape the rules to prohibit that, without preventing them from opening up a separate site that is genuinely geared towards brewing small batches.