Craft Beer 101

I started this off as an opening paragraph for my Day 4 review, but it turned into a much larger post so I decided to give it a dedicated entry.  Hopefully you will find some thought-provoking ideas.

Yesterday was a big day in the world of craft brewing as a major decision was announced by the Brewers Association.  I should probably step back first though and explain more in depth something I touched on briefly in an earlier post.  “What exactly is craft beer?” This question can easily be summed up with three words; small, independent, traditional.

I’ll start with the latter.  Traditional means the brewer harkens back to the basic guidelines set by 16th century brewers.  The Reinheitsgebot of 1516 stated that only malted barley, hops, and water could be used in the making of beer.  This was enacted for numerous reasons, the more significant of which were to protect the quality of the beer, as well as to protect the malt and wheat producers of the region.  (This was prior to the discovery of the role yeast plays in fermentation, hence the reason for it being omitted.)  The enormous macrobreweries of today – BudCoorsMiller – have substituted rice and corn in place of malted barley.  While the use of rice and corn, called “adjuncts” have a big affect on the flavor, they are employed due to their inexpensive production values.

This leads me in to my next value, independent.  A craft brewery can be no more than 25% owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not also a craft brewery.  (ie. it is ok for a large craft brewery to purchase a smaller craft brewery, but it is not ok for Anheuser-Busch to purchase it.)  This keeps the ideals of the craft brewers protected and focused.

Small is the last quality of a craft brewery, and this is the part that the major announcement yesterday concerns.  For the past three decades, the amount of beer a craft brewery could produce was capped at 2 million barrels a year.  (1 beer barrel is equal to 31 gallons.  You do the math from there.)  Just to give you some idea of scale, Anheuser-Busch produces well over 100 million barrels of beer in a year.  Boston Beer Company is currently the largest craft brewery in the world, and is drawing dangerously near to the 2 million barrel mark in production this year.  If this limit was not changed, Samuel Adams would drop off the craft brewery category and into a macrobrewery label.  This would cost them dearly in tax benefits, and would also severely damage the production numbers and statistics of American Craft Brewers.  Due to this, it was announced yesterday that the cap would be tripled, to 6 million barrels.  This move will protect the interest of craft brewers for at least the next 15 years.
Cheers to having a Brewers Association that truely cares about the state of the industry as well as having the best interests of the “small guys” at heart!


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