Fight brewing between craft beer makers, big beverage companies

Argument raised over what constitutes 'craft' beer

Author: Tim Gerber , Reporter,
Published On: Feb 01 2013 08:32:38 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 01 2013 10:30:00 PM CST

There's a new beer battle brewing and it's pitting small, independent, handcrafted beer makers against multinational beverage companies.

The fight is over what should be considered a true handcrafted microbrew.

According to the Brewers Association, a not-for-profit trade association dedicated to small and independent American brewers, to be considered a craft brewer, you need to produce 6 million barrels of beer or less each year and no more than 25 percent of the craft brewery can be owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not a craft brewer.

The association recently issued a statement regarding the "increase in production and promotion of craft-like beers by large, non-craft breweries."

In the statement, they claim big multinational brewers are "deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers made by small independent brewers."

The Brewers Association points to the growing craft beer market as a reason for the intrusion by the big beverage companies. According to the association, craft brewers saw their industry grow by 13 percent by volume in 2011 and by another 12 percent in the first half of 2012.

At the same time, the overall beer industry was down by 1.3 percent.

As beer lovers seek out more handcrafted beers, it makes sense that the giant beverage companies want a piece of the action.

The Brewers Association points to Blue Moon Belgian Wheat Beer and Shock Top as two craft-like beers being sold by industry giants SABMiller and Anheuser-Bush InBev as examples. They say the way the beers are labeled and marketed may be confusing to consumers because they are not labeled as products of large breweries.

The association has called 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."

In San Antonio, there has been an explosion in the craft beer market, with several new microbreweries coming on line in the past year and more preparing to open this year.

Jason Ard is one of those new local brewers.

Within the last three weeks, he started producing three beers at his Branchline Brewing Company. Ard has mixed feelings on the craft-versus-crafty beer fight.

On one hand, he sees the beers being sold by the big guys as a way to introduce beer drinkers to craft beers.

"The part that I don't like about it is that they're trying mask it as 'craft' beer," Ard said, adding it could cause confusion for consumers. "Especially the person who's getting into craft beer and doesn't know allot about craft beer. They would look at that and say, 'Oh, this looks like craft beer. This is a craft beer.'"

For the most part, Ard believes true craft beer drinkers know the difference, but he worries about the uneducated beer drinker being turned off by the mass-produced beers.

"I'd hate for someone to try one of those beers and feel betrayed because they thought it was a craft beer, then be kind of turned off to the whole process," he said.

Kyle Lockamy, a beer specialist for Specs, said he's not too concerned about the big beverage companies dipping their toe in the craft beer market. He said the industry giants are helping expose beer drinkers to more options.

"There's plenty of options out there, it's just a matter of going out there and finding them. That's half the fun," Lockamy said. "What you like is what you like. At the end of the day, you don't have to justify your beer to anybody."

For a list of recent stories Tim Gerber has done, click here.