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The Industry Takeover of Craft Beer

Kelsey Chesterfield

The craft beer scene has exploded throughout the US in recent years and with that there are seemingly more options available at your local supermarket. Which is great, right? However, we’re sad to say that in the last decade an increasingly large number of those craft breweries have been bought up by what the industry calls “Big Beer”; meaning many of those “craft beers” you see on supermarket shelves are actually now being produced by large nation-wide breweries.

Large companies such as Corona, Heineken, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and more are now heavily invested or in complete control over craft brewery brands such as Goose Island, Kona, 10 Barrel Brewing, Hop Valley, etc.

You may be thinking, “But we received some of the beers from those breweries in our Craft Beer Club shipment!” And you’re correct. However, we featured those breweries when they were still independently owned and operated.

beer bottling machineThis upheaval, which many independent breweries and craft beer enthusiasts are calling a takeover of the authenticity of small production, hand-crafted brews, is also vastly unrestricted. Why and how could they do this? Well, as they watched the craft beer scene growing, they wanted their piece of the action. Initially many of these global companies attempted to create their own craft beers, but to no avail.

Thus started the process of buying out their small competitors.

While it may not seem like a huge deal that microbreweries here and there are selling out to the Big Brother of beer, it actually may have larger impacts nation-wide. InBev claims that the operations of the small craft breweries they have purchased won’t change and their goal is to help those brands expand. And there is an argument for this.

Related: In the year 1900 how many independent breweries were making beer in the United States?

But what many don’t realize is that the big beer companies also have their feelers out on a much larger scale than the original craft brewery had. They can get those small, crafted brews out of their immediate region and into more stores nation-wide. Many times this also comes with a more appealing price point for store owners. A win-win for everyone, right?

Unfortunately, that might mean they are taking the place of a regional independent craft brewery, who perhaps cannot match the same price. The little guys used to have competition amongst each other, but now they must compete with these huge corporations. It also means that the original microbrewery has a higher demand for their beers, so they expand; hiring more employees, buying more supplies, or might even move into a larger facility. But at what point are they still considered a “craft brewery”?

The Brewers Association defines a craft brewery as:

Small: the craft brewery produces 6 million barrels or less of beer per annum

Independent: the craft brewery owns at least 85% of the company

Traditional:f the craft brewery uses flavors that derive from traditional and/or innovative ingredients and their fermentation.

Brewers association independent craft certified logoBut it’s not all doom and gloom. The Brewers Association is fighting back against these ‘imposter brands’ with their “Seek the Seal” campaign - a way for craft brewers to vow that their brewery is independently owned and gives reassurance to the consumer that the brew they’re enjoying is authentic. The independent craft brewer seal was set in motion in June, 2017 and, “is designed as an upside down beer bottle, which symbolizes how the U.S. craft beer movement has literally turned beer on its head worldwide”.

The Seek the Seal movement is still gaining momentum, and the goal of the seal is to make it outstandingly clear to consumers that they can trust what they are drinking is in fact craft. However, keep in mind that it is a growing movement, meaning that if you do not see the seal on a craft beer does not mean they are not a true independent craft brewery.

But in the end, it is ultimately up to you to weigh the pros and cons of your motivations to purchase beer. If you really enjoy a certain brew from a brewery who has been bought out, by all means buy the beer! But we are hoping to shed light on the growing trend and some of the new difficulties that the small craft beer producers are facing.

So, what does all of this mean for companies like The Original Craft Beer Club? Well, it means that we do our research and we stick to our promise of continuing to support local breweries throughout the country by only featuring those who are small, independent, and traditional. The way it should be!

P.S. You can help spread the awareness and join the movement by using #seektheseal on your social media posts.