Craft, Crafty, and maybe words just don’t mean what they used to

List of beer organisations

List of beer organisations (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What does “craft beer” mean to you?

It is no secret that the craft industry has so many players that are doing so many different things that we should be thankful that there is something resembling a regulatory body. But is it worthwhile if that governing body is a bit. . . thuggish? Bossy? I’m at a loss for the right term here.

The Brewers Association came out with a press release on Thursday announcing some change up of what it means to be a craft brewer – new criteria and announcements of who has fallen off of this list. Most notably (at least for me) is Widmer Brothers and Magic Hat – for either being more than 25% owned by a non-craft entity or due to their import sales exceeding domestic production. There is also the requirement that craft breweries must limit their production to under 6 million barrels a year.

As a result – some really awesome beers can now no longer be designated as “Craft” within the beverage industry. At the same time, some kinda-bullshit  near-beers can lay claim to being “craft.”  Albeit, the goal of the Brewer’s Association is to have some kind of regulation on the term “craft” and work to protect and promote the industry from macrobrewers who might be interested in profit over product (might, again, I could be wrong here).

So there’s this big hoopla going around right now about what it means to be a “Craft beer brewery” as the Brewer’s Association went ahead and altered what it might mean to be a craft brewery. The BA’s definitions are largely defined in numbers, but is that necessarily the best common denominator? Frankly, I’m not going to stop or start drinking a particular beer because of it’s standing with the BA, and neither should you.

Craft beer and breweries are all about their community. So shouldn’t it be up to the community to determine what is and isn’t worthy. If an organization does need a specific criteria on whether or not a brewery is craft, I can think of two that would would nicely:

1) Does the brewery advertise during major sporting events?

2) Does the brewery produce a “light” version of any of their beverages? In other words, are their consumers more worried about their waistlines rather than the quality/ flavor of the beer they are drinking?

I’ve reached out to the BA flat out asking what it means for a brewery to be considered “craft” and what benefit they stand to gain from it – awaiting their reply.

Here at the Wagon, we want to know what you think. What does “Craft beer/ Brewing” mean to you?


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About David Pennington

Denver based writer and editor. Managing Editor of Denver Off The Wagon. Usually up to some kind of delinquency. Photos of dogs, beer, and gnarly knee scars over at

  • Chris Washenberger

    Interesting question. To me it comes down to an increase of size that requires some sort of automation that takes the brewing process out of human hands. Small neighborhood joints are crafting beer. If your flagship products are a product of computer controlled automation, that does not seem too crafty. Just a personal take and it does not mean that your beer is bad, just stop trying to make people believe that every can or bottle is meticulously hand-crafted.

    I don’t necessarily get what the goal is. Hopefully you get a good answer.

    • D.T. Pennington

      I hope I do as well. Beer is beer, but the hand-made, careful, community driven component is what makes it worth drinking.

      • Chris Washenberger

        That might be going a bit far for me. I don’t care how hand made it is. If it tastes like poo, it is not worth drinking. I am more of the “drink GOOD beer, lots of it, from all over” philosophy.

        The BA’s insistence on using a term like “craft” is tough because when I hear craft, I think small batch hand made products. They really are trying to change the meaning of the word. I once got into a twitter tiff with Greg Koch over this. I can’t remember how it went exactly, but he said that so-called nano-breweries were not craft brewers. After cursing his soul, I determined that if we are going to use a words to draw lines folks like Stone should be called Not-so-Macro breweries and small commercial joints allowed to be called micro breweries and homebrewers should get stuck with craft.

  • Chris

    To me, the designation “craft” is all about how the beer is made regardless of the size or ownership of the brewery. Craft is simply beer that is made with (mostly) all-grain and doesn’t use adjuncts to cut the price (adjunct can be used if they’re actually used to create a unique flavor, though, like spices, fruits, coffee beans…etc.; the intention of the adjuncts is what matters to me.) So, yes, some of these big breweries do make craft beer. However, I am 100% against them hiding behind craft brewery facades; you’re owned by Coors, Colorado Native, so enough of this “AC Golden Brewing Company” business. It’s trickery used to fool uninformed but well-meaning “buy local” advocates.

    • Chris

      Also, those two criteria mentioned in the post are good but would effectively eliminate Samuel Adams from the ranks of craft beer. I’m actually okay with that but it’s something for Sam Adams fans to mull over.

      • D.T. Pennington

        Definitely something to mull over, and I’m full aware that my criteria includes them. Which is fine – I haven’t seen much that is very inspired out of them lately anyway.

      • Chris Washenberger

        I imagine every brewer would advertise during NFL games if they could afford it. Also wouldn’t a second-runnings beer just be a light version of the bigger beer 😉

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