Craft or No

Variety "craft" beer pack

After getting my flu shot at Costco (get your flu shot if you haven’t! Also COVID shot!) I did a brief tour of their beer section and found this variety pack of beers from Elysian, Widmer, Kona, 10 Barrel, Goose Island, Red Hook, and Golden Road.

That sounds like a great thing, right? All these craft breweries coming together to offer you a bunch of different stuff.

Exceeeeeeept: all of these breweries are owned by ABInBev. Every single one of them.

They didn’t ‘come together’: Industry Daddy shoved them into a station wagon for you to buy.

I bring this up because there is often-practically every year-a ‘debate’ about “what constitutes craft breweries” and inevitably, this question revolves around how big the brewery is. Most of the time, shade is thrown at Sam Adams, as one of, if not the biggest craft breweries in the US.

Viewing this variety pack though, I’ve decided to come up with my own definition: If your brewery owns or is owned by another entity, be it venture capitalists (a pox upon all their fucking houses) or another brewery, you are not a craft brewery.

That doesn’t mean you can’t get bank loans, or go into partnership with someone, or do contract brewing. I will say, “partnership” is doing a lot of work there-Widmer went into ‘partnership’ with ABInBev in the 90’s and now they aren’t independent anymore. Given my understanding of the deal Widmer struck, it could be argued they hadn’t been independent for a long time.

Still, I like this definition because it eliminates what is, to me, the dumbest part of the definition-how big something is-and moves it to what really matters; how independent it is.

3 thoughts on “Craft or No”

  1. “If your brewery owns or is owned by another entity, you are not a craft brewery.” So, Deschutes and Boneyard…not craft breweries?

    1. Well, as this story illustrates, it’s a touch more complicated than “Deschutes owns Boneyard” (https://newschoolbeer.com/home/2021/3/boneyard-founder-tony-lawrence-and-deschutes-founder-gary-fish-discuss-acquisition) but effectively, yes. Boneyard is no longer able to make their own decisions about what they brew or how they do business, right?

      And Deschutes now gets to dictate how another brewery does business, right? They aren’t purchasing it and rebranding it to be a Deschutes product.

      Heck, the article itself talks about Deschutes doing distribution and that is exactly how ABInBev got their hooks into Widmer. Which means no matter how free Boneyard might be now, eventually, it will be wholly subject to the wishes of Deschutes.

      Once someone else can decide where your beer goes and how it gets sold then you’re not so crafty anymore.

      And that can be good or bad-I don’t believe I’ve seen a decline in the product from either brewery (unlike AB’s acquisitions) but to my way of thinking, they aren’t craft breweries anymore.

      Nothing wrong with that-the world needs midrange breweries too.

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