This Independence Day, we want to highlight something that we are very proud of: The Independent Craft Brewer’s Seal. “In an effort to educate beer lovers about which beers are independently produced, the Brewers Association—the not-for-profit trade group dedicated to promoting and protecting America’s small and independent craft brewers—launched a new seal touting independent craft brewers.” (brewersassociation.com) So what exactly does all of that mean? And why should we care as consumers?
Before Prohibition, our country’s landscape of breweries was very different than it is today. To start the conversation, the supply chain was extremely limited and ingredients were far more regionally sourced. On the other side of the supply and demand comparison, the sales territory was also far more localized. As more Europeans immigrated to the United States, the beer market grew (even beyond the spirits market in sales) and small, local producers were supported by their communities. (Another fascinating rabbit hole to go down is the relationship that local brewers developed with Saloon owners, forming the first exclusivity contracts in the US’s brewing industry.) Eventually, the technological changes – namely the railroad, telegraph, and mechanical refrigeration – enabled the growth of “shipping brewers” with capabilities to produce greater volumes and achieve wider distribution than ever before. The first of these being Pabst in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis, Missouri.
Naturally, the Prohibition period negatively impacted – note that I didn’t say ended – beer consumption. Today, historians estimate that beer consumption dropped as much as 50% during these 13 years, but certainly not entirely. Speakeasies and underground connections kept beer brewing in the country, but it was certainly a detriment to the growing popularity of beer.
Fast forward to 1933 when Good Ole’ FDR signed the Cullen–Harrison Act in March, allowing the manufacturing and sales of 3.2% beer (3.2% alcohol by weight, approximately 4% alcohol by volume) – and then later in December, repealed the Eighteenth Amendment with ratification of the Twenty-first Amendment. But, before the American beer industry could attempt to re-establish itself, World War II began. This further inhibited the re-emergence of smaller breweries because much of the grain supply was rationed due to the war, forcing the breweries to use adjuncts such as corn and rice alongside the barley traditionally used in brewing. By the 1970s, consolidation and dominance by the country’s major brewers led to the fewest number of breweries in the country’s modern history. Despite this, the period also saw the beginnings of the country’s current craft beer movement. In 1976, optical engineer and homebrewer Jack McAuliffe founded New Albion Brewing Company in Sonoma County, California, becoming the nation’s first microbrewery since Prohibition. New Albion ignited an interest in craft beer and set a precedent for a generation of craft brewers, including Ken Grossman and the owners of Mendocino Brewing Company, the nation’s first brewpub. By March 1986, five brewpubs had opened in the United States. The total number of breweries rose from 42 in 1978 to over 2,750 in 2012, reaching or exceeding the number of breweries estimated to have existed during the colonial period. Virtually all of this growth is attributable to small, independent breweries. (wikipedia)
So, if you’re still with me, you know that our beer industry is what it is today because of the small guys. The creativity, the pursuit of ecological advances, the community involvement – these are all things that Independent Craft Brewers bring to the table. Larger producers haven’t had the opportunity to experiment with styles and push the envelope of style standards like the craft brewers have. As the craft brewers began to take a larger slice of the market, the mega-corporations began to notice. In the past 10 years – and especially in the past 5 years – the giants have been doing their best to blur the lines of craft and corp. The Craft Brewer’s Associate has rallied together more than ever in recent years to defend the name of Craft. The Independent Brewer’s Seal is one of these tools: as you must be a registered Craft Brewer to use it on any of your collateral. Requirements to being a Craft Brewer:
- Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less
- Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled or equivalent economic interest by a beverage alcohol industry member which is not itself a craft brewer.)
- a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavors derive from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored Malt Beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
Choose Craft to support Independent Brewers!