What do these ownership categories mean?
Craft – According to the Brewers Association, a craft brewer is small, independent and traditional:
- Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales).
- Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer. In other words, less than 25% owned by MillerCoors or AB InBev.
- A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
Crafty – sort of like Craft, but not meeting one or more of the BA’s craft criteria. There are several sub-species:
- Formerly Craft
- This was a craft brewery at one point, but has since been purchased (with greater than 25% stake) by a non-craft entity, typically AB InBev or MillerCoors. Sometimes this is accomplished without any changes to the beer itself, but sometimes quality suffers after the sale (i.e. Goose Island, Rolling Rock). For many breweries in this category, it is too soon to tell (i.e. Wicked Weed).
- Faux Craft
- This was always a product of a non-craft brewery, but it has been made to be craft-like. Sometimes the beer is pretty good (i.e. Blue Moon). Often a fair bit of deception is involved, in that there is no obvious indication on the bottle (or even on the brewery website) that the beer is made by one of the brewing giants (i.e. 10 Barrel). Hence the need for this website.
Corporate – owned by a large multinational corporation, with not much attempt to make the beer craft-like. This category used to be called “crap” but that designation implied a judgement about the quality of the beer, which is not what we’re doing here. And “crap” is certainly not a good description of breweries like Guinness and Franziskaner, which end up in the Corporate category. So ultimately this is a pretty broad category, encompassing “old master” breweries that have been purchased by Big Beer, international mainstays, and truly “crap” breweries that produce better advertising than beer.
It is noted that the definition of “craft” is a fairly contentious matter, especially the “small” criterion. The Brewing Association does as good a job of walking this tightrope as anyone. For more background on this issue, I enthusiastically recommend The Craft Beer Revolution: How a Band of Microbrewers Is Transforming the World’s Favorite Drink by Steve Hindy of Brooklyn Brewery.
Are these beers any good?
With the exception of the Crap category mentioned above, this list isn’t trying to rate a beer’s quality or yumminess. There are lots of online resources that do this very well, chief among them Beer Advocate and Rate Beer (it was recently disclosed that AB InBev’s ZX Ventures has purchased an unspecified minority stake in Rate Beer).
Why do you care?
Each dollar I spend as a consumer is a vote in support of a company and its set of values. Craft brewing as an industry stands for many of the things I care about the most. Craft breweries are small businesses, which support their local communities in a myriad of ways. Most craft breweries buy, grow, and sell local as much as possible, and many of them make environmental sustainability a key part of their business models. Craft brewing puts the focus squarely on the beer, which is a welcome relief in our ad- and image-driven world. The beer is good, yes, but craft brewing is about way more than just making delicious beer.