Monday, May 13, 2013

A modest proposal in honor of American Craft Beer Week: Bring back the USBA!

American Craft Beer Week 2013

Welcome to American Craft Beer Week 2013.

For the eighth consecutive year, the Brewers Association —the national non-profit association on behalf of small and independent (and 'traditional') U.S. breweries— has declared one week in May to be American Craft Beer Week® (ACBW).

This year, from Monday, May 13, through Sunday, May 19, 2013, American Craft Beer Week will provide an opportunity for small and independent brewers, craft beer enthusiasts, and better beer retailers to celebrate the ever-advancing beer culture in the U.S. Events include exclusive brewery tours, special beer releases, multi-course food and pairing dinners, collaboration beers, retail promotions, etc. A list of events is listed on the Association's website.

The Brewers Association was founded in 1983 by Charlie Papazian, founder of the American Homebrew Association and the Great American Beer Festival. It was known then as the Association of Brewers. At the time, the much larger United States Brewers Association was in existence, but Swiftian attrition was rapidly shrinking its membership as U.S. mainstream brewing companies and plants were being closed or acquired. Another organization, the Brewers Association of America had been formed in the 1940s as an alternative to the the USBA , to be an advocacy group for 'small' breweries. In 1976, the USBA and BAA jointly secured a tax differential, for breweries producing fewer than 2 million barrels per year, on the first 60,000 barrels they produced, a tax break that still exists today.

In January 2005, the Association of Brewers merged with the Brewers Association of America to assume its present composition as the Brewers Association. It defined the production limit for a 'craft brewery' as fewer than two million barrels per year. In January 2011, the BA, in danger of losing Boston Beer Company (the brewery was approaching the limit), changed its definition of "small" to six million barrels.

The USBA was disbanded in 1986 —after 124 years of advocacy for American breweries— because of withdrawal of support from the then American-owned mega-breweries.

In his speech to the Craft Brewers Conference in March of this year, in Washington, D.C., Charlie Papazian never once referred to a brewery as a "craft" brewery. Rather, he pointedly, and repeatedly, used the phrase "small and independent" brewery, avoiding even the Association's own 3rd stipulation for a 'craft' brewery, "traditional."
An American craft brewer is small, independent, and traditional.
  • Small: Annual production of beer less than 6 million barrels. Beer production is attributed to a brewer according to the rules of alternating proprietorships. Flavored malt beverages are not considered beer for purposes of this definition.
  • Independent: Less than 25% of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member who is not themselves a craft brewer.
  • Traditional: A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewer's brands) 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.

For American Craft Beer Week 2013, here's my modest proposal. Scrap "craft." Scrap "small." Scrap "traditional."

The Brewers Association should re-convene next year as the reincarnation of the venerable United States Brewers Association.

What would the requirement be for membership in the new USBA? Simply put, a brewery would have to be majority American-owned. That's it (well, along with dues). With this, all American breweries —from family-owned Yuengling Brewery to the nano-est nano-brewery— could work together, barrel-by-barrel, toward their common interests. It could end the jumble of fungible barrellage requirements, ingredient self-righteousness, and convoluted arguments about what exactly "craft beer" is.

American Craft Beer Week began originally as American Beer Month. Not its duration, but the inclusiveness, produced an insalubrious side-effect of honoring the industrial light lagers of the brewing behemoths. Now that not one of those mega-breweries is independently American-owned, it is 'craft' brewers who hold the mantle of the true makers of American beer. So, let the international beverage conglomerates of Anheuser-Busch InBev, SABMiller, MolsonCoors, and their ilk— fight among each other. For the rest of us: Long live American beer!

Anyone with me?


  • For a list of ACBW events across the nation, go here.
  • History of the USBA and BAA from Amy Mittelman: Brewing Battles: A History of American Beer. Algora Publishing: 2008.
  • Because "craft brewery" is such an ill-defined term, I usually enclose it in within quotation marks.
  • 1 comment:

    1. Great read, thanks for the insight. In the attempt to bring 'good' beer to a broader audience, we obfuscate everything. As a retail beer buyer, I have no idea what 'craft' means anymore. Then again, I'm not convinced anyone does. Cheers.


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