Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Takes a Stand for Craft Brew­ers at the Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val

Craft Beer & Brewing Magazine - - The Politics Of Craft -

In June, brew­ing in­dus­try trade group the Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion an­nounced that it would no longer al­low brew­ers who don’t meet their def­i­ni­tion of “craft” to pur­chase premium end­cap space or other spon­sor­ships at the world’s pre­mier beer fes­ti­val. As a re­sult, brew­eries such as 10 Bar­rel, Breckenridge, Goose Is­land, La­gu­ni­tas, and Bal­last Point will no longer be per­mit­ted to bring large, eye-catch­ing booths but may still at­tend and pour at a stan­dard in­line ta­ble.

“There was no sem­i­nal mo­ment, no one iso­lated in­ci­dent that moved the board and the staff in this di­rec­tion,” says Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent and CEO Bob Pease. “It’s some­thing we’ve been speak­ing about for a num­ber of months, and as things get fuzzier or blur­rier in the mar­ket­place as to who’s an in­de­pen­dently owned brewer and who isn’t, we felt the time was right to make that change.”

Pres­sure from small and in­de­pen­dent brew­ery mem­bers helped make this a pri­or­ity for the board, as some smaller craft brew­eries planned to pull out from the fes­ti­val if the pol­icy was not changed, but the swift ac­tion and sub­se­quent an­nounce­ment was viewed pos­i­tively by mem­bers who openly ques­tioned the logic of al­low­ing brew­eries owned by AB Inbev, Mol­son Coors, Heineken, and oth­ers to pay for prime real es­tate in what should be a cel­e­bra­tion of craft beer.

The suc­cess of in­de­pen­dent craft brew­eries is one rea­son why the pol­icy had to change. “A lot of our brew­eries that meet the craft brew­ery def­i­ni­tion wanted that op­por­tu­nity to be a fea­tured brew­ery spon­sor, so we wanted to open up that in­ven­tory to brew­eries that re­ally are the ones we go to bat for on a day-to-day ba­sis,” says Pease.

Be­cause the for­mula for cal­cu­lat­ing spon­sor­ship cost is based on the num­ber of bar­rels that brew­ery pro­duces, it is con­sid­er­ably more lu­cra­tive for the Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion to sell those premium lo­ca­tions to ex­tremely large non-craft brew­ers. “It’ll have a neg­a­tive fi­nan­cial im­pact, but that’s okay,” says Pease.

“It’s the ‘Great Amer­i­can Beer Fes­ti­val,’ so the mind­set was we should find a way to high­light brew­ers that meet the craft brewer def­i­ni­tion,” says Pease. “We feel this is a good so­lu­tion where brew­eries that are aligned with the global multi­na­tion­als are wel­comed and en­cour­aged to en­ter the com­pe­ti­tion and have an in­line booth, but they’re no longer el­i­gi­ble to be a fea­tured spon­sor.”

“The editorial I penned [for the New York Times] and my tes­ti­mony in front of the Se­nate ju­di­ciary com­mit­tee is, I think un­for­tu­nately to some de­gree, com­ing to pass,” says Pease. “We are see­ing ex­am­ples of in­de­pen­dent craft brew­ers be­ing squeezed out of ac­cess to mar­ket op­por­tu­ni­ties at ma­jor chain venues, sports are­nas, air­port bars, places like that.”

And while Pease and the craft brew­ery mem­bers of the Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion board may not be able to re­solve th­ese other sit­u­a­tions where multi­na­tion­als use their money and clout to gain up­per hands in mar­kets, they have, at least, de­cided to keep craft brew­ers as the fo­cus of their own yearly cel­e­bra­tion.

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