Beer Group Brews Up Campaign to Protect Craft Niche

The Brewers Association is taking on big industry players in an effort to define what qualifies as a craft-brewed beer in an increasingly competitive market.

What if your favorite craft-brewed beer turned out to not be a craft beer at all? Is nothing sacred anymore?

That’s the gist of recent messages from the Brewers Association, the trade organization representing small and independent brewers. Large breweries, recognizing the increasing popularity of the craft brewers’ niche, are trying to create similar beers and pass them off as craft-brewed, the association says.

It is not a level playing field in the marketplace for small and independent craft-brewing companies.

“There are many reasons why we felt we needed to come out and state our views about what we see as happening in the marketplace,” said Bob Pease, COO of the Brewers Association and coauthor of a recent op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We just feel that the large brewers—Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors—have been hiding the fact that some of these brands are made in their breweries.”

The Brewers Association defines an American craft brewer as small and independent, with annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less and no more than 25 percent ownership or control by a company that is not itself a craft brewer. So when an international brewing company like MillerCoors advertises its Blue Moon brand as a craft beer, it’s mislabeling the product, the Brewers Association says.

“It’s our purpose and mission as an organization to promote and protect small and independent craft breweries,” said Pease. “It is not a level playing field in the marketplace for small and independent craft-brewing companies.”

The campaign has sparked lively debate among beer enthusiasts, and the big brewers are not sitting on the sidelines.

“To question the quality of these beers due to their size or success is doing a disservice to the entrepreneurs who created them,” Tom Cardella, president and CEO of Tenth and Blake Beer Company, the specialty and imports division of MillerCoors, said in a statement. “Most beer drinkers don’t get hung up on industry definitions, which often change.”

But Pease said the large brewers are missing the point. “The central issues we tried to raise were transparency, truth in labeling, and letting the consumer know who makes that beer. Why wouldn’t the large brewers want to identify themselves as the makers of those fine beers?”

Still a relatively new group, formed in 2005, the Brewers Association focuses on advocating for its members in Washington and promoting their industry to the public, Pease said.

“Sure, they’re brewers and they make beer, but really they are small businesses,” he said. “We’re out there every day representing them either in the government affairs arena or working with the media or local groups trying to educate everybody about the contributions our members make.”

How have you differentiated your members from others in your industry or profession? If you’ve had success with your message, tell us about it in the comments.


Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

Got an article tip for us? Contact us and let us know!