TEN SIGNS OF A CRAFT BREWERY (USA EDITION)

UK beer bloggers Boak and Bailey got some good conversation started last week with their post “Ten Signs of a Craft Brewery”; I’ll wait here while you go read it.

Back? Good. Although just catching on over the pond, “craft” is probably the most used and abused term in the world of beer stateside, and there is far from consensus as to its definition within the community. We’ve argued about it on these hallowed pages; Jeff Alworth at Beervana argues craft is beer brewed with a goal of “aesthetic character”. Here in the US, the Brewers Association defines craft as “small, independent, and traditional”, meaning:

Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.

Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.

Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.

I’d prefer not to surrender sovereignty of the word to an industry group with self-interest in making the term as broad as possible (I suspect no matter how large Boston Beer Company grows, there will be room in the Brewers Association craft tent for Boston Lager and the like). Rather, let’s use the Boak and Bailey approach that craft is not an industry designation but an ethos with identifying hallmarks; thus, I came up with a few items that help identify whether a brewery in question should be considered “craft”:

  1. The brewmaster at a craft brewery has a beard; the sales manager has a soul patch. Many times they are found on the same face.
  2. Craft brewers reserve the right to brew with corn ironically.
  3. Craft brewery packaging copy often contains the words “Artisanal”, “Hand-crafted” or “Small-batch” but never the words “Premium”, “Platinum”, or “Light”.
  4. Craft brewers don’t try to argue with a straight face that “small” means production of 6 million barrels a year or less.
  5. Craft brewers don’t try to argue with a straight face that “independent” mean publicly traded on the NYSE
  6. In craft brewing, a “Non-compete clause” refers to an agreement not to engage in drinking games at the brewery before 5 PM. It is generally considered as unenforceable as traditional non-compete clauses.
  7. The Marketing Department of a craft brewery is the brewmaster (unless he is so inherently insociable, the reins are handed over to a perky underling who works the Twitter account in exchange for beer).
  8. A craft brewery’s Design Department is typically a brewery employee’s cousin with dreadlocks and a penchant for patchouli oil, who took a couple Photoshop classes at junior college, and also works for beer.
  9. The legal team at a craft brewery is somebody’s weird uncle who mainly handles medical malpractice cases, looks like Saul Goodman, and also works for beer.
  10. Whenever a craft brewery is in completely over its head and “management” doesn’t know what to do, they always think what will be best for the beer- and then take it from there.

Hopefully this will help you identify craft breweries in your area. So Aleheads, what are some other tell-tale characteristics you look for in a craft brewery?

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6 comments

  1. Slooch – I am truly entertained by your posts – keep up the good work.

    They pale in comparison to the inspired 10 you wrote, but I’ll pitch in these:

    11. Craft brewers do not believe you should drink their beer “super cold” and do not put thermometers on their bottles to tell you when it has become so.

    12. Craft brewers put their beer in kegs, brown bottles, cans, and occasionally mason jars. The brewery has no exterior windows, so the only clear glass in the brewery is drug paraphernalia (and even then, it usually changes color quickly).

    13. Craft brewers do not use the phrase “triple hopped” on their labels.

  2. 14. Craft brewers hate the phrase “craft brewers”.

    15. Craft brewers don’t sell 30-packs.

    16. Craft brewers should have absolutely NO idea how to efficiently and effectively run a special release event. Even if it’s a recurring annual release, they will run into the same problems every year.

  3. albsolutely hilarious! Keep up the good work..
    BTW…The only clear glass in my brewery is for our ‘lab’ 🙂

    Slainte!
    jason

  4. These are funny but quite a few of them are also true….

    From this, it seems that your definition is a lot more focused on size than ours, and that you particularly value a sort of DIY ethic. Interesting.

    We’re pretty comfortable with the idea that multiple definitions of the same thing might exist alongside each other and just overlap in places. As you say, the important thing is probably that what craft beer is doesn’t become a set of rules imposed by some kind of monolithic arbiter…

  5. Craft brewers like other craft brewers…

    Craft brewers have created jobs in a down economy…

    And a special note, 5 craft brewers have borrowed $250M in SBA backed funds very recently, which will turn in to how many long term jobs and revenue streams?

  6. 17. Craft brewers make time to talk to random, 21-year-old visitors to the brewery, who arrive with no appointment and no knowledge besides a vague idea that they like beer.

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