Here’s how to spot a “true” craft beer

Smaller brew­eries to add seals on bot­tles to bat­tle Big Beer

The Denver Post - - BUSINESS - By Caitlin Dewey

As Big Beer has snapped up craft brew­eries, it’s grown harder to tell who the true indies are. But a new in­dus­try ef­fort hopes to clear up the con­fu­sion by declar­ing their own­er­ship right on the bot­tle.

More than 800 brew­eries — in­clud­ing Sam Adams, Sierra Ne­vada and New Bel­gium — will soon be­gin print­ing seals on their beers that iden­tify them as “Cer­ti­fied In­de­pen­dent Craft.” The ini­tia­tive, which was spear­headed by the trade group for in­de­pen­dent craft brew­ers, is in­tended to dif­fer­en­ti­ate “true” craft beers from those made by the likes of Miller­coors, An­heuser­busch and Heineken.

To qual­ify to use the seal, brew­eries can­not be more than 25 per­cent owned or con­trolled by any al­co­hol com­pany that’s not it­self a craft brewer. Its an­nual pro­duc­tion also can’t ex­ceed six million bar­rels.

The growth of the craft beer seg­ment, once in the dou­ble dig­its, has slowed dra­mat­i­cally since those multi­na­tion­als en­tered the fray: from 18 per­cent in 2013 to eight per­cent three years later. Some be­lieve they could stem some of that de­cline if con­sumers re­al­ized some “crafty”-look­ing beers weren’t ac­tu­ally made by in­de­pen­dent brew­ers.

“We’ve been hear­ing from our mem­bers for al­most two years that there is a lot of con­fu­sion in the mar­ket­place, fu­eled by the Big Beer ac­qui­si­tions,” said Bob Pease, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Brew­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, which rep­re­sents the in­de­pen­dents. “This is a way to give beer drinkers more transparency and more in­for­ma­tion.”

Small brew­eries have grown anx­ious about Big Beer’s in­cur­sion on their lim­ited turf. Five in­ter­na­tional con­glom­er­ates — An­heuser-busch In­bev, Miller­coors, Con­stel­la­tion/crown Im­ports, Heineken and Pabst — al­ready con­trol more than 80 per­cent of the U.S. beer mar­ket, ac­cord­ing to the Na­tional Beer Whole­salers As­so­ci­a­tion.

That mar­ket dom­i­nance has given the big brew­ers sig­nif­i­cant ad­van­tages. On the brew­ing side, large com­pa­nies can lever­age their vol­ume, and their cap­i­tal, to score more and bet­ter hops.

The larger is­sue, how­ever, lies in dis­tri­bu­tion. Be­cause the five Big Beer firms rep­re­sent the ma­jor­ity of busi­ness for the mid­dle­men who move beer from brew­eries to ta­plines and re­tail stores, they ex­er­cise enor­mous in­flu­ence.

Dis­tri­bu­tion con­tracts fre­quently al­low ma­jor beer brands to dic­tate where their beer is placed on shelves, for in­stance.

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