In an effort to educate beer lovers about which beers are independently produced, the Brewers Association (BA) – 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.
Featuring an iconic beer bottle shape flipped upside down, the seal is designed to capture 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. As large brewers continue to have unprecedented influence and acquire millions of barrels of formerly independently brewed beer, the seal differentiates in a crowded and increasingly competitive marketplace.
Independence is a hallmark of the craft brewing industry, and it matters to the brewers who make the beer and the beer lovers who drink it. Beer drinkers, especially Millennials, expect transparency when it comes to their food and beverages. That transparency and underlying ownership can drive their purchasing decisions.
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. In the coming weeks, months and years, beer lovers will see it on beer packaging, at retailers and in brewery communications and marketing materials.
More than 1,250 brewers have begun displaying the seal on everything from bottle and can labels, 6-pack holders and prominent displays in taprooms. This represents almost 50% of the national craft brewing volume, in barrels. Breweries can find more information about the independent craft brewer seal at BrewersAssociation.org/seal and beer lovers can learn more at CraftBeer.com/seal.
Craft is no longer a useful word to describe a beer movement that began towards the end of the last century. The microbrewery movement was born in the US in the early 1980s representing a revival of dormant traditional beer styles with pioneers piecing together small breweries with whatever equipment they could find – mostly used dairy. The term “craft” was coined in the ’90s when microbreweries outgrow the 15,000 barrel-per-year designation.
Now, craft has been co-opted. Big beer has come to play in the kids playground – craft is everywhere, it has lost its meaning. So, yes, today’s brewers (at the nearly 5,500 breweries operating in the US) still make craft beer, but now many of them have added a new word – “independent” to craft. Recently, the Brewers Association, the flag bearer for this group, introduced an official seal, the Certified Independent Craft Brewer Seal with a logo (see opposite) that can be used on packaging to proudly proclaim independence. While some have expressed reservations about the design (the upside down vessel may look like a bottle dump, it is supposed to represent brewers turning an industry on its head – and many of today’s brewers no longer use glass), the BA announced that more than a third of their membership (some 1,250 breweries) has adopted the measure.
The value of the seal has yet to be determined. Some argue that beerdrinkers who care about brewery ownership are mostly already in the know. Others question what it is to be truly independent, especially when equity players get into the game. Still others suggest the BA should be focusing on issues like freshness and quality instead of independence. There are all kinds of seals of course – USDA Organic, Fair Trade, Energy Star to name a few. New Yorkers may be familiar with the Good Beer Seal, which a group of bar owners developed to differentiate their own and others’ hostelries. Launched 10 years ago, about 70 establishments now display the designation which actually depicts a seal (sealion).
The independent seal announcement definitely drew a response from the non-independent brewers who have recently sold their businesses to brewing giant AB InBev. President of the High End, their umbrella group, Felipe Szpigel, while he said the seal was a good idea for the trade group asked, “how is it any better to be 100 percent owned by a bank or 100 percent owned by a brewer?”
– Tony Forder