Friday, September 11, 2009

What's craft?

What's the difference between a so-called 'craft' brewery and a so-called 'mega' brewery?

The Brewers Association has a tortured definition: independent, 'small', traditional.

The US tax code? It increases the marginal tax rate on 50,000 barrels or more if that brewery produces 2 million barrels or more.

In the midst of a rough summer, the beer industry just posted a victory. Trade groups representing brewers big and small have cajoled over half of the legislators in the House of Representatives to sign onto HR 836, aka the “Brewers Excise and Economic Relief [B.E.E.R] Act of 2009.” Beer Business Daily explains the significance:

"The bill would reduce federal beer excise taxes to pre-1991 levels, when they were doubled. The bill seeks to reduce big brewer taxes from $18 a barrel to $9 a barrel, and rollback the small brewer tax break on the first 50,000 barrels from $7 to $3.50 a barrel."

More than half of U.S. Representatives support slashing beer taxes
By Jeremiah McWilliams
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
27 July 2009

The newest edition of the Good Beer Guide, published by CAMRA (Campaign for Real Ale) doesn't define 'craft' brewery, but just states it:
Britain has more small breweries than any other major industrialised nation, according to the Good Beer Guide.

Good Beer Guide editor Roger Protz said the nationwide total of breweries made the UK "undisputed top brewing country in the world".

British brewery numbers soar
The Independent
10 September 2009

Hmmm. You might need to submit some more data for that claim, Mr. Protz! [Per this, in the comments section below, read the comment from Jim Dorsch, past editor of Mid-Atlantic Brewing News.]

Large conglomerate breweries may say that they insist upon the 'best' ingredients, but as their goal is to maximize profits for their shareholders, 'best' might imply cost over quality. Maybe the defining difference between 'mega' breweries and 'craft' breweries is the latter's preference for quality over profit ... within reason!

Notice the 'bolded' sentence in this story about the Mad Fox Brewing Company, a brewpub scheduled to open in Falls Church, Virginia in early 2010:
Every aspect is planned to the smallest detail, making Mad Fox seem less like a business and more like a science project. The glassware is carefully chosen so that each beer style is paired with the optimal drinking vessel. Ingredients are selected and imported based on their region rather than the price per unit. The recipes are always evolving, constantly being refined in order to obtain brewing perfection.

Local Brew Master to Bring Award-Winning Lineup to F.C.
By Matt Sapsford
Falls Church News-Press
10 September 2009

Of course, don't take that too far. Non-conglomerate breweries are indeed businesses, and successful ones operate with good business practices. For example, Mad Fox brewpub has a business plan and 'crafty' investors. Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams) sold nearly 2 million barrels of beer last year. It's the joy of the beer itself (and the joy of brewing the beer) and the sense of connecting with their community that separate small (or 'craft' or micro or local) breweries from their much bigger brethren.

A barrel of beer is a measurement of volume equal to 31 gallons or 13.78 cases of beer. More on beer volumes and measurements here.

1 comment:

  1. Roger says Britain has the most breweries per capita. The story says there are 711 breweries. Most of those must be craft breweries, and since Britain's population is perhaps 1/4 that of the US, certainly it has a higher density of small breweries than the US. I'm not familiar with brewery densities in other countries.

    The Independent, not Roger, says Britain has the most breweries


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