By Chris Heagney
The voices of many American craft breweries, especially the small guys, can get lost in the drone of the macro beer giants. The resources of smaller operations pale in comparison to those of national brands, particularly when it comes to marketing budgets.
In an effort to strengthen their message and interests, most microbreweries have unified behind The Brewers Association, an organization that aims to “promote and protect American craft brewers, their beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.” Within the organization, brewers have better opportunities to influence lawmakers and gain access to a combined pool of data and information.
As the popularity of craft beer has grown over the years, it has dug into the sales of macro beer. This has pushed companies like AB InBev (which owns Budweiser, among others) to take a more aggressive stance towards their much smaller counterparts that includes marketing campaigns that aim to undermine the craft beer movement and the purchase of regional breweries all over the country. It has become increasingly more difficult for customers to distinguish between a locally owned beer and one owned by a large corporation.
With this in mind, the Brewers Association launched a new seal for independently owned breweries to include on their labels. The association’s craft beer program director, Julia Herz, is one of the seal’s greatest proponents. “I get up every day to share the good word of the world of craft beer lovers,” she says. “You can’t help but encourage the independent brewers in the US. They’ve brought back the choice of variety and flavor to the beer scene. And although touring breweries and going on “beercations” has become a great way to spend your time, it isn’t a shoo-in for these breweries to make sales. You have to advocate for them.”
According to the Brewers Association, a brewery is independent if “less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member which is not itself a craft brewer.” You are considered a “small” brewery if you produce fewer than 6 million barrels per year. Since the introduction of the seal in 2017, nearly 4,000 breweries have implemented it, representing more than 80 percent of all craft beer brewed. There is still, however, much more ground to be covered. “Out of the 6,700 brewing locations, 98 percent are small and independent craft brewers,“ says Herz, “but they only amount to less than 13 percent of the beer share by volume in the US.”
Herz explains that small brewers have been asking international breweries for transparency for years and, for many, the seal is a chance to provide craft beer lovers with that information. With a nationally established symbol for craft beer, you can determine with convenience which brands are independently owned, whether you’re traveling or grabbing a six-pack at your local grocery store.
Christopher Heagney is the owner of Daidala Ciders, located in Asheville at the Historic Cotton Mill Studios at 122 Riverside Drive, Unit G.