What is craft beer US style?

The debate over what is and is not a craft brewer continues to rage in the US (and a bit in Europe). Beer Idiots thinks it will eventually rest on the word ‘independent’. And let’s not get into what a craft beer is and is not, cause for us craft beer has been brewing in little villages across Europe for centuries, and yes, many using innovative recipes. Meanwhile back in Trumpland the US Brewers Association proposes to amend its definition of a craft brewer for the fourth time since 2007, according to Brewhound. Membership of the association, which stands for “small and independent” craft brewers means the right to stamp a good marketing logo on your beer and a lobby group a valued tax cut.

The association’s current definition, which has changed three times since 2007, a craft brewer must be brewing less than 6 million barrels a year, be independent (less than 25% owned by a non-craft brewer), and with a majority of its total volume derived from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients. With that definition there were 6,655 active breweries as of 30 June 2018, up from 5,562, or 5%, at the same time last year. An estimated 2,500 to 3,000 breweries are in planning, based on active Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) licenses.  The proposed change acknowledges that an increasing number of craft brewers are already using non-traditional ingredients and offering products such as flavored malt beverages and hard seltzers. 

Others are looking at creating beverages infused with cannabinoids, including THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (cannabidiol). Brewhound quotes a letter from Left Hand Brewing founder Eric Wallace, who also serves as the chair of the association’s board: “What we learned from this survey is that nearly half of the membership is already brewing — and more than half would consider making in the future — products that fall outside the existing Brewers Association traditional tier, such as cider or mead or other products taxed as beer (hard seltzers/flavored sugar beverages/sake/alcoholic kombucha, etc.),” he wrote. “Nearly half surveyed said they would consider producing beers containing CBD or THC should the regulatory structure change federally around those potential products.”

The proposed change would also allow the BA to continue counting its largest voting member, Boston Beer Company, as a “craft brewer”. Boston Beer, which makes Samuel Adams, is seeing growth through hard seltzer, cider, and alcoholic tea. At its current growth rate, the company would no longer be considered a BA-defined craft brewer because a majority of its volume is now coming from non-beer offerings. The proposed changes will be up for discussion at the association’s next board meeting on 29 November. The association is also running an online survey to find out just what brewers are putting in their beer, and what other non-beer products they are making or planning to ferment.

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