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