People are talking about the new “Independent Craft” label offered up to brewers by the Brewers Association. You can only use it if it you meet the BA’s craft brewers definition, have a valid TTB brewers notice, and sign a license agreement. If so, they can freely display it on their advertising and packaging.

The new Independent Craft logo. (Image courtesy of the Brewers Association.)

They quietly released it through craft beer news folks, and it was received by many craft beer aficionados favorably…mainly because, in today’s confusing craft beer market, it’s hard to tell which beers are true craft and which ones are fake craft, or no longer independent.

Why does it matter? There are two reasons. First, since the beginning of craft beer, the large brewers, using the power of their distribution networks, have attempted to limit, and in some cases destroy, the burgeoning craft beer industry. Recently, that has extended to purchasing popular regionally situated breweries. They say it’s to expand their market. Some feel they are doing it to avoid or prevent the diminishing sales of their primary brands, which could cause a write-down of the goodwill generated by purchases on their balance sheet.  Here’s a good article about that: This weekend there was some Goose Island beer one my friends bought for $5.99 a six pack at a c-store. The bad news for big beer is that this person usually drinks the Sliver Bullet. Bought the “craft” beer because it was cheaper…

Others feel it’s just good hard business practice to beat down the competition. In Texas Holdem, it’s common practice to go all-in against a smaller stacked opponent to force them out of a hand. Many craft brewers believe in a more community approach. It’s common for small brewers to share items if one brewer has enough and can help a fellow brewer out without material damage to themselves.

We’ve all read stories about pay-for-play and sure, both sides do it. It’s more of a China vs. the dissidents kind of thing in those contests. The tank rolls forward and there’s 30 different package styles of Bud Light or Shock Top on the shelves and two lonely local craft brewers sideways in the corner at the Walmart. The BA action is intended to make it more of a David vs. Goliath sort of thing by providing weapons. I’m pretty sure folks won’t be checking Miller Lite for the label, but there are many times seeing some sort of confirmation it’s a “real” craft beer would be helpful. There’s the added bonus for new craft beer enthusiasts to be sure they are actually drinking craft beer.

Secondly, we are not talking about Budweiser purchasing craft breweries. They were arguably the first brewery purchased. Once the deal was done, cost-cutting measures were taken and continue to be taken. The company is based in Belgium and controlled by Brazilians. We can’t say if the austerity measures will continue with the purchases of additional breweries, but there have been incidents. Goose Island Bourbon County Brand Stout comes to mind…

One party that took offense to the new badge was The High End, InBev’s corporate division that owns and controls the purchased breweries. Some evidence of their control is this video that came out almost immediately after the debut of the independent craft label.

Six Viewpoints from the High End.

Not to get personal, but these six brewers from around the country were summoned by their overlords to gather together and make this slick film about their reactions. Interestingly, Walt Dickenson, of newly purchased Wicked Weed, speaks of the invading beers from across the seas and they are the ones making the film. He also goes on about a civil war, and again, that’s the battle. The logo may help the smaller army win.  Felipe sounds like he might be one of those foreign invaders. I have friends and followers all over the world, so I’m not picking on his nationality, just being observant.

I get the feeling David Buhler thinks he knows better than the rest of us what is good about and for beer. I’m not sure that’s what he was going for, but it sure came across as pretentious.

Then there’s Garrett Wales…your little bottles don’t mean shit to him. Kinda says it all, doesn’t it?

The craft beer world is moving towards a complete separation, with major distributors dominating the market and small beer stores and brewpubs being the best model going forward. It’s not clear that the breweries that have been purchased are no longer making good beer. It is apparent that they are a clear and present danger to breweries that want to expand beyond a local footprint. The farther away the consumer is from a particular brand, the more difficult it is to find shelf or tap space when distribution is so controlled by the big guys.

Hurrah for stores and bars who keep their selection to the best beers available. I, for one, believe that the Independent Craft Label is a great tool to help us decide what to buy, tap, and drink.

On this Independence Day, join the fight and get yourself some yummy “Independent” Craft Beer! Don’t let the aliens win! Wait, that was the “other” Independence Day movie…

Huck was here!

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