Are Beer Giants Destroying Craft Beer?
There was a time in my life when I drank corporate beer. Cheap, mass produced, flavorless beer. And I was happy with that. Then one day a co-worker said “Here. Drink this.” and as the song says, I was blind but now I see. I could never again be happy with corporate beer. Could I?
I love craft beer. The flavor, the variety, the creativity, is endless. I am constantly discovering the best beer I never had. But what is craft beer? What does it mean to be a craft brewer? According to the Brewers Association, craft beer must be small, independent and traditional.
Small: The brewery can distribute no more than six million barrels of beer a year.
Independent: No more than 25 percent of the brewery can be owned by a non-craft beer brewery- such as Anheuser-Busch InBev.
Traditional: The majority of the brewery’s output must be from beers whose flavor comes from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation.
The craft brewing industry has exploded, and craft brewers are popping up at an ever increasing rate. A fact that has not gone unnoticed by Big Beer. Anheuser-Busch has been snapping up craft breweries. Since 2011 AB Inbev has acquired 8 craft breweries across the country, and in 2016 they acquired the Virginia craft brewery Devils Backbone.
Anheuser-Busch stated that Devils Backbone will retain a high level of autonomy and continue its own authentic DNA within their framework. But what does that really mean? Short term, Devils Backbone will benefit from strategic knowledge and financing they will need to help them grow and expand. In fact, Devils Backbone recently opened a brewery in Manhattan (Congratulations NY!). But can they really be independent with a “high level of autonomy” or be truly creative while working within the “framework” of a corporate beer giant?
So far I can attest that the quality of the beer at Devils Backbone has not diminished, and their creativity doesn’t seem to have suffered. So is it still craft beer?
For the foreseeable future, I plan to continue to save room for Devils Backbone in my fridge.