Do You Know What Craft Beer Is?

If you’re reading this, you’re either thinking, “duh, of course I know what craft beer is,” or you’re thinking, “I have no clue, I just love beer.” Both answers are good ones, but after doing some research, I was able to dig into just what craft beer is. So for all of you curious beer lovers, the next time you’re at a bar you can sound smart and tell everyone exactly what craft beer is.

According to the Brewers Association, “an American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.” That sounds pretty hipster-esque to me. For those of you that are picky, wanting to know what small, independent and traditional exactly mean in this definition, here it is:

Small: Small means there is an annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. Typically, a craft brewery produces less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year with 75% or more of its beer sold off. However, don’t get confused with the size of the production and the size of the brewery. Craft brewers currently provide over 100,000 jobs in the U.S., including serving staff in brewpubs (a brewpub brews and sells beer on the premises).

Independent: For a brewer to be considered a craft brewer they have to be independent. Less than 25% of the craft brewery needs to be owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer (you’ll get what that means later on). Craft brewers usually have their own way of connecting with their customers. One example is the use of social media. Many craft brewers have taken advantage of social media, whereas the big-name brewers tend to stick to traditional ways of marketing such as television and radio.

Traditional: The brewer either has an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor, making them more traditional. Craft brewers tend to interpret historic styles with unique twists making them more innovative. They also involve traditional ingredients like malted barley, yet sometimes they include distinctive, non-traditional ingredients.

There are four distinct markets in the craft beer industry: brewpubs, microbreweries, regional craft breweries and contract brewing companies. Now what’s the difference between them?
Microbreweries produce less than 15,000 barrels of beer per year with 75% or more of its beer sold off-site. They usually produce specialty beers and distribute them locally. Some examples of micro’s include New Glarus, Bell’s and Brooklyn Brewery.

Brewpubs are more of a restaurant-style brewery. They sell 25% or more of its beer on site. The beer is brewed primarily for sale in the restaurant and bar, typically dispensed directly from the brewery’s storage tanks. Sometimes people will call this beer the “freshest” for that reason. However, if the brewpub sales exceed 75% then it’s considered a microbrewery. Some examples of brewpubs are Haines Brewing, Avery Brewing and Bowling Green Brewing.

Contract Brewing Companies typically hire another brewery to produce its beer. The contract company handles marketing, sales and distribution, leaving brewing and packaging to the producer. These breweries don’t really have a brewery to their name, it’s mostly for marketing purposes. Pabst Brewing, Kona Brewing and Blue Moon are some of the contract brewing companies around the U.S.

A Regional Craft Brewery has an annual beer production of between 15,000 and 6 million barrels. This is an independent regional brewery who has either an all malt flagship or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor. Boston Beer Co, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium are a few examples of a regional craft brewery.

So it takes a lot to be put into the right category as a brewery. Hopefully most of you now have a better understanding of the different craft breweries around the U.S. Thanks to the Brewers Association for providing a lot of the data needed to help answer the definition of craft beer. Although it’s not too important what kind of brewery makes your favorite beer, as long as you love it, enjoy it!

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