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Tuesday, April 10, 2018

De gustibus non est disputandum.


A few days ago, Jaime Jurado —who, among many beer business accomplishments, was the recent Head of Brewing Operations at Abita Brewing Company, in Louisiana— posted, to his personal Facebook page, a link to an article written by Bryce Eddings 1, at a site called The Spruce, entitled, "A Working Definition of Craft Beer. The attempt to define 'craft' beer is not as easy as you think."

As you might think, there was a large thread of responses. Mine covered one aspect of the question: the elusive definition of 'craft.' Given that this is my blog, I've expanded upon my response and unraveled it here.

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The [U.S.] Brewers Association 2 does NOT define what a 'craft' beer is. And, fortunately, it does not define 'craftsmanship,' either. It does, however, define what so-called 'craft' breweries are: its dues-paying members. It's a distinction often disregarded. The BA promulgated its newest 'definition' in 2014: "An American craft brewer[y] 3 is small, independent, and traditional."
  • Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.
  • Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
  • Traditional: A brewer[y] that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.
Compare that to the BA's older, pre-2014, definition in which corn and rice had been deemed 'evil':
Traditional: A brewer[y] who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers 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.

Four years before that, in 2010, the BA also changed its definition of a small brewery, making it a lot less small. It tripled the size limit for breweries from annual production of two million barrels or less ... to six million barrels. In other words, as the BA put it, it stopped penalizing member success. Or, in other words, it ended its worry about losing the advocacy and financial support of its largest member, the Boston Beer Company, who, at that point, was right at the two-million-barrel threshold. of course, now both Yuengling (allowed in, in 2014) and Boston Beer are closing in on the newer limit. Will what 'craft' is change again?

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New definitions

A 'craft' brewer(y) is a brewer(y) that pays dues to the [U.S.] Brewers Association. And a 'craft' beer? That's:
1) a beer that tastes good, and/or
2) a beer made with craftmanship, and/or
3) a beer made with chemical-laden breakfast cereals, and/or
4) De gustibus non est disputandum 4.
Or, in other words, cocoa-puffs, chemicals, and artificial ingredients in your beer are okay and big non-beer venture capitalists owning your brewery are also okay. Just not big breweries.

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  • 1 Bruce Eddings is the past longtime moderator of the beer corner of the dear, departed About.com. (I referenced him often during the past 16 years of this blog. Alas, those links are now kaput.)
  • 2 The name of the organization is the Brewers Association. Because the only American-owned breweries in the U.S. are so-called 'craft' breweries, I append the prefix "[U.S.]" whenever I write the association's name. Nonetheless, I am a dues-paying (non-brewery) member. A brief history of the association: here.
  • 3 What's with the weird metonymic tic of writing "brewer" when "brewery" is meant? A brewery is a building housing a beer factory. Or it's the business that operates it. A brewer is woman or man who works there.
  • 4 A Latin expression roughly meaning "there's no accounting for taste."
  • This post orginally appeared on Facebook.

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