Craft Beer

Craft Breweries: When Do They Stop Being Craft?

According to the Brewer’s Association, an American craft brewery is defined as:

  • Independent
    At least 75 percent of the brewery is owned by independent brewers who have no financial ties to other interests in the alcoholic beverage industry.
  • Traditional
    The brewery must use traditional ingredients for fermentation to supply the flavor in its beer. Flavoring is not acceptable.
  • Small
    The Brewer’s Association limits production to less than 6 million barrels annually in order to be considered in the craft category.

Most of America’s 4,000-plus craft breweries fit the description put forth by the Brewer’s Association. These breweries are responsible for providing America’s beer drinkers with a wider variety of beers than any other place in the world. American craft beers are some of the best in the world and American ingenuity has provided beer drinkers with unique and tantalizing taste experiences.

The Price of Popularity

However, as the popularity of craft beers has increased, so has the market share of some of the smaller breweries, and they now outstrip the size guideline put forth by the Brewer’s Association. Sam Adam’s beer is a good example. Although started in 1984 as a craft brewery, some think that Sam’s 2014 sales of more than $4 million are pushing it out of the craft category, according to Fortune magazine.

Oskar Blues, founded in 1997 in Lyons, Colorado, now ranks as number 14 in revenue in the U.S. with three production facilities. The brewery recently sold the majority of its company to a private equity firm, and expanded its reach into markets other than beer. Many people, particularly Chris Black, owner of Falling Rock Tap House in Denver, feel that this pushes Oskar Blues right out of the craft classification. Craft brewing is about making superior beer not selling bicycles.

Oskar Blues’ recent activities have prompted Chris Black to pull their product from his inventory, even though he was one of the original sellers of it. Black feels that the issue is more about supporting the community than strict adherence to an arbitrary guideline. He doesn’t feel that selling to an outside investor is in the best interest of the community that gave Blues its start. Black’s interview with Westword can be found here.

The Flip Side

On the other side of the coin, many of the larger craft breweries feel that their obligation to their customer means supplying the best quality and widest assortment of beers possible. Expansion and profitability are two of the motivators for starting a business, whether it’s beer or bicycles.

Since there are no definite guidelines established on the subject, except those put forth by the Brewer’s Association, this argument isn’t likely to be settled anytime soon. Those who are on the flip side contend that the Brewer’s Association guidelines aren’t binding or maybe even worthwhile.

The Winner Is…

No matter the outcome of this hotly debated topic, the sure winner is the beer drinker. Craft beer continues to increase in popularity and breweries continue to vie with each other for their share of the market.