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What Exactly is “Craft Beer”, and Why Should the Term “Indie Beer” Become A Thing?

I typically have “blog posts in waiting”. These are usually posts I have started to write that I’ve intentionally left to stew to later refine before I post, or posts I’ve started and hit pause on when something else became a priority.

This is one of those posts.

There’s an elephant that’s entered the room since I first started writing this post  a little over a month ago. A little over a week ago, the brewery I work for, Devils Backbone, announced to a silent room of employees, including myself, that it was being sold to Anheuser-Busch InBev.

The internet was anything but silent. Many people used the word “sellout”. Lifelong fans announced they would no longer drink our beer. And some people even offered support. ABI’s acquisition means that Devils Backbone beer will no longer be considered “craft beer”. But, what does that even mean? Enter, the relevance of this post.

What follows is my original post with my opinions. At some point in the near future, I’ll write a blog post sharing my thoughts about the acquisition. For now, let’s talk “indie beer”.

The other day, I saw an article suggesting that the term “craft beer” was in need of a makeover. Agreeing in large part, I continued to read.

The article (Craft is Dead. Now We Drink Indie Beer.) mentioned how, recently, a podcast out of California, threebzine.com, brought to light the term “indie beer”. Some people on social media have deemed it unnecessary and seemingly pretentious. And at first glance, you may be tempted to think it’s just some hipster attempt at an unnecessary rebrand. But is it really?

Nope. Not at all.

Let’s first talk about what “craft beer” actually is.

The term “craft beer”, though clearly defined by the Brewers Association, exists as a somewhat subjective term to most people.

If you were to post a poolside photo of a can of Goose Island’s Goose IPA on Instagram using the hashtag, #craftbeer, you would be wrong in calling it “craft”. Goose Island is owned by ABI (Anheuser-Busch InBev), making Goose Island’s beer technically not craft.

Craft beer is defined by the Brewers Association as beer coming from a brewer that is “small, independent and traditional.”

What Exactly is “Craft Beer”, and Why Should the Term “Indie Beer” Become A Thing? (And Why The Hell Does It Even Matter?)It further defines those three.

  • “Small” – A brewery with an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less.
  •  “Independent” – A brewery where less than 25% of the brewery is owned or controlled by “an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.”
  • “Traditional” – A brewery that uses traditional or innovative ingredients, having a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers.

The “small” part means obvious exclusion for macro brewers Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors. No one picks up a Budweiser and thinks it’s craft beer.

The “traditional” part mostly means that we’re taking beer here, and not FMBs, or Flavored Malt Beverages. Smirnoff and Lime-A-Ritas certainly aren’t getting confused as being craft beer.

The craft beer identification issue lies within the “independent” part.

If you’ve visited a 10 Barrel Brewing Co. brewpub in Oregon or Idaho, or an Elysian Brewing brewpub in Washington, did you realize that they were owned by macro brewer AB InBev? Drinking a Blue Moon? You’re lining the pockets of the folks at MillerCoors. Did you know that Ballast Point is owned by Constellation Brands, international producer of many wine, beer, and spirits brands? Did you know that Founders is owned by Spanish brewing giant, Mahou-San Miguel? Probably not. And “big beer” is counting on that.

About Janée Farrar

Janée Farrar is a Certified Cicerone® living in Burlington, North Carolina. Her biggest passion in life is craft beer, beer education, and sharing that love of beer with others. She currently works in Marketing for Devils Backbone Brewing. You can follow her adventures with beer on her blog at webeerlongtogether.com, or on Twitter and Instagram at @janeelovesbeer.

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