In a move that speaks toward the craft beer industry’s mounting unease at the continued brewery acquisitions of Anheuser Busch-InBev and MillerCoors, the Denver-based Brewers Association, the craft beer industry’s trade group, today unveiled their creation of an “independent beer seal” to be used by craft breweries. The free-to-use seal will be available for optional adoption by breweries, whether or not they are members of the Brewers Association.
The group describes the seal with the following: “An iconic beer bottle shape flipped upside down, the seal captures the spirit with which craft brewers have upended beer, while informing beer lovers they are choosing a beer from a brewery that is independently owned. These breweries run their businesses free of influence from other alcohol beverage companies which are not themselves craft brewers.”
It’s a symbolic act that implies battle lines being drawn, for sure. To get a look at the seal, simply scroll down to the bottom of this piece. The press release from the BA also dives into several elements of their rationale for introducing the seal now.
Why now? When it comes to the origins of food and beverages, there is increasing public interest in transparency. Beer lovers are no exception. As Big Beer acquires former craft brands, beer drinkers have become increasingly confused about which brewers remain independent. They want to know who makes their beer. With the launch of this seal, the BA is making it easy to identify which beer is made by independent craft brewers.
What does the seal look like? Featuring an iconic beer bottle shape flipped upside down, the seal captures the spirit of how craft brewers have upended the beer industry, while informing beer lovers they are choosing a beer from a brewery that is independently owned.
How can brewers adopt the seal?: The seal is available for use free of charge by any of the more than 5,300 small and independent American craft brewers that have a valid TTB Brewer’s Notice; meet the BA’s craft brewer definition; and sign a license agreement. It is available to both member and non-member breweries of the BA.
When will beer lovers see the seal in the marketplace? In the coming weeks, months and years, beer lovers will see it on beer packaging, at retailers and in brewery communications and marketing materials.
Our thoughts? The idea of an independent beer seal is nice in theory, but likely a bit muddier in practice. The Brewers Association’s definitions of a craft brewery are getting more and more difficult on a yearly basis to concisely and cleanly apply toward the breweries in the market as they sell and consolidate. Should a partial sale by Founders Brewing Co. to a Spanish conglomerate that does no real business in the U.S. beer market really be considered the same as the outright sale of Wicked Weed, Golden Road or Elysian to AB-InBev? Founders will not be eligible to use this seal, so in the mind of the Brewers Association, these companies will be treated as one and the same. Meanwhile, the likes of Oskar Blues and Cigar City can sell out to private equity in the form of Fireman Capital and still both make the Brewers Association’s “craft beer” definition and use the seal. You can imagine how some breweries would look at this and be miffed.
In the end, the Brewers Association are motivated to do whatever they believe is best for independent breweries, which is a stance we can definitely support. The issue is that it’s becoming far more difficult over time to truly parse what any of these words mean. There’s also the question of whether the rank-and-file, “average” beer drinker will ever even notice or understand the meaning of the seal, even if it was present on every independent brewery’s bottles.
In the end, ownership matters, but there are more shades of grey than ever. It’s up to the consumer to decide on a case-by-case basis which ownerships matter to them most.