NPR has a long piece about how “the line separating craft brewers from large multinational companies is growing blurrier.” Except it’s not. Not at all.
First, the so-called “phantom crafts” such as Blue Moon and Elk Mountain (remember that?) date from the mid-1990s, when Big Beer first trained its sights with any real gusto upon what was then a craft-beer segment growing by double-digit percentages annually. Yes, the phantom crafts have grown more prevalent in some markets; but they’re not new nor is the public’s confusion over them.
Second, the Brewers Association‘s shifting of the definition of a craft brewer to include the likes of Yuengling and Narragansett is not exactly earth-rattling. The BA in the past has allowed in contract brewers, organizations that didn’t even really brew in the traditional sense (e.g., there was no brewery). Judged against that, the BA’s elimination of the requirement that a craft brewery must make at least half of its product, as well as its flagship beer, from barley malt seems puny.
Finally, “the line separating craft brewers from large multinational companies” is actually stark rather than blurry, especially in terms of all-important production. Most of the craft breweries in the U.S. produce fewer than 15,000 barrels annually, about what Anheuser-Busch InBev spills at one or two of its plants each year. The biggest craft brewer (under the BA’s current definition), Boston Beer Co., produces around 6 million barrels annually; AB-InBev, the world’s largest brewer, churns out around 350 million. Or, to put it another way, Anhsuser-Busch gobbles about 50 percent of the American beer marketplace every year; all of craft beer—thousands of breweries, big and small—draws about 15 percent.
And that’s after nearly half a century of craft-beer growth. (And we’re not even taking into account distribution, which Big Beer lustily dominates.) The line remains.
· As Craft Beer Starts Gushing, Its Essence Gets Watered Down [NPR]
· Actually, Yes, Big Beer Did Manipulate the Market and Prohibition Did Affect Smaller Breweries [TomAcitelli.com]
Excellent points, I read the recent NPR article and felt the changes enacted by the BA were in keeping with the spirit of the craft industry/movement. Removing the malt flagship requirement stuck me at first but when one looks at the overall history of beer production, pre-industrialization, malted barley was extremely common but other grains were used frequently, wheat and rye being classical examples. A recent review of Steve Hindy’s book on the craft movement in the Wall Street Journal spins the same ‘blurred lines’ tale by placing the point of conflict between big craft versus small craft, instead of craft versus macroproducers. It is important that their be voices that argue against the idea that growth for craft breweries is a good thing, there still exists a mountain of market domination the craft movement can chip away at, by arguing that growth is ‘self-cannibalization’ only reduces consumer (and investor) confidence.