The term “craft” has origins in the late 1990s/early 2000s when companies that once were called microbreweries grew to have regional and nationwide distribution. The Brewers Association defines craft beer as small (6 million barrels of production per year or less), independent (less than 25% of a craft brewery is owned by an alcohol industry member that itself is not a craft brewer), and traditional (a brewer that has a majority of its volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation). The trouble with this definition is that the Brewers Association has changed it a number of times to accommodate the changing nature of its members.
Also announced this week was Heineken’s full control of Lagunitas Brewing Company, which had lost its status as a craft brewer by the Brewers Association’s definition in September of 2015 when it sold a 50% stake to what was then the world’s third largest (now second largest) brewer.
Further muddying the waters are brands of beer produced by the brewing giants, but marketed as stand-alone companies such as ABI’s Shock Top and Molson Coors’ Blue Moon. Some have taken to calling such beers “crafty” as a way to mark them as interlopers.
I find myself thinking in terms of small, medium, and big breweries rather than craft, crafty, and industrial. I will tell you that my beer fridge has a heavy bias toward Minnesota-made beers from small or medium sized breweries. In the end, it is all about quality for me as I believe it is for most drinkers, but quality is not a function of batch size, distribution network, or even price. Quality is a function of fresh ingredients, good techniques, and consistent processes. When it comes down to it, if you like a beer, you should drink it.