Before I start this post, it is important to disclose that I work as a freelance writer with the Brewer’s Association (CraftBeer.com) as well as work full-time for a craft brewery (Bison Organic Beer) that is a member of the Brewer’s Association.
A not-for-profit trade association, the Brewers Association purpose is to promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts. It is an organization made up of brewers, members of the allied trade, beer wholesalers, individuals, other associate members and the Brewers Association staff.
In an effort to hold true to its promise to protect small and independent craft breweries, the Brewers Association released a statement yesterday addressing its concerns about craft-imitating beer brands and the craft-ification of domestic beer. Strong, powerful and blunt – the statement has caused quite a stir in both the craft and non-craft segments of the beer community.
If you have not read the statement, I recommend doing so before reading the rest of my post.
Many have taken it upon themselves to analyze, criticize and even reject the statement made by the Brewers Association. As someone with a vested interest in the Brewers Association, both personally and professionally, I would like to take a minute to discuss my own opinions on the statement.
Although some have interpreted it as one, the statement was not an attack against big beer. In actuality, it was a call to action for what I will refer to as a “Right to Know” movement in craft beer.
Truth be told, I’m no stranger to the “Right to Know” concept. The brewery I work for just spent weeks fighting for the passage of Proposition 37 in California – a bill that would have forced companies to label GMO ingredients. Sadly, big business did what big business does best – it squashed the little guys and the proposition failed.
You may be asking yourself, what’s the big deal? Do consumers really care if they know if they are eating GMOs? If something with GMOs tastes good, consumers will probably still eat it – right? Well, probably. After all, American still eat billions of dollars worth of products riddled with high-fructose corn syrup, MSG, aspartame, nitrates, artificial food coloring and other additives that have been linked to severe medical conditions like cancer, heart disease and death.
FDC Labeling laws force companies to list every single ingredient, the good, the bad, the ugly, on all food and beverage labels. This means the consumer, hypothetically, is being made aware of the foods it consumes. And if this consumer, despite medical studies and health warnings, decides to eat high fructose corn syrup and, therefor, subject his body to the potentially harmful effects of consuming high fructose corn syrup, well that is a choice is his to make.
Same with GMO ingredients. The following countries have banned or restricted the import, distribution, sale, utilization, field trials and commercial planting of GMO’s: European Union, Norway, Austria, Germany United Kingdom, Spain, Italy, Greece, France, Luxembourg, Portugal, Egypt, China, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Egypt, and so on and so forth. Americans have the right to know if GMO ingredients are used in foods that they consume.
This brings us back to the statement made by the Brewers Association.
According to the Brewers Association, “Large, multinational brewers appear to be deliberately attempting to blur the lines between their crafty, craft-like beers and true craft beers from today’s small and independent brewers. We call for transparency in brand ownership and for information to be clearly presented in a way that allows beer drinkers to make an informed choice about who brewed the beer they are drinking.”
Essentially, the Brewers Association is campaigning for the same thing that the GMO-labeling advocates are pushing for – the Right to Know. Yes, the two arguments couldn’t be more different, but the message is still the same. Consumers have the Right to Know who makes their beer and where they money is going.
Denying the consumer’s right to know and, as a result, the right to choice, directly violates the “Consumer Bill of Rights”.
In his 1962 “Consumer Bill of Rights” speech to Congress of the United States, President John F. Kennedy called upon the Federal Government to take necessary legislative and federal actions to protect the rights of consumers. According to President JFK, these rights include:
(1) The right to safety-to be protected against the marketing of goods which are hazardous to health or life.
(2) The right to be informed-to be protected against fraudulent, deceitful, or grossly misleading information, advertising, labeling, or other practices, and to be given the facts he needs to make an informed choice.
(3) The right to choose-to be assured, wherever possible, access to a variety of products and services at competitive prices; and in those industries in which competition is not workable and Government regulation is substituted, an assurance of satisfactory quality and service at fair prices.
(4) The right to be heard-to be assured that consumer interests will receive full and sympathetic consideration in the formulation of Government policy, and fair and expeditious treatment in its administrative tribunals.
In 1985, the concept of consumer rights was endorsed by the United Nations through the United Nations Guidelines for Consumer Protection, which expanded the aforementioned list to include eight basic rights. One of these rights includes the right to consumer education. Essentially, this means that consumers have the right to acquire knowledge and skills needed to make informed, confident choices about goods and services, while being aware of basic consumer rights and responsibilities and how to act on them.
In an ideal world, the right to be informed, the right to information, the right to choose and the right to education should all be protected with product labels. Labels should serve as educational platforms, providing factual and complete information about the products inside them.
“Witnessing both the tremendous success and growth of craft brewers and the fact that many beer lovers are turning away from mass-produced light lagers, the large brewers have been seeking entry into the craft beer marketplace. Many started producing their own craft-imitating beers, while some purchased (or are attempting to purchase) large or full stakes in small and independent breweries.” – Brewers Association statement, Dec. 13 2012.
The issue at hand is not the actual quality of the beers being produced by large brewers. Yes, large brewers have the ability to develop, sell and market innovative, unique, interesting, adjunct-free beers that rival those of smaller, independently owned craft breweries. BUT, the consumer also has the right to know who really makes the beer – aka who gets paid when all is said and done.
Does knowing that AB-Inbev or Miller-Coors is the company behind a beer really make a difference in consumer perception and consumption? Some would argue not. If a beer tastes good, well then, who cares who makes it. Others will argue that consumers deserve the knowledge and skills required to make informed, confident purchasing decisions when it comes to beer.
The most conscientious consumers believe in voting with their wallet. These are the consumers that buy local, organic and craft whenever possible. These consumers refuse to patron establishments owned by big business. They refuse to let their dollar support globalization. They care about what they put into their body. And they care about where products come. But even the craftiest of crafty large corporations can fool even the most discerning of consumers.
I firmly believe that consumers have the Right to Know about the beer they are drinking. Is it a product of a small and independent brewer? Or is it from a crafty large brewer, seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of small and independent craft brewers? Do you know? Well, now you do. (Click on the image below for a full scale view).
Read this reaction from August Schell, one of the so-called “craftys” on the BA list.
Much ado about nothing…Being able to make informed decisions so that we can vote with our dollars is one of the primary ways capitalism works (in theory). What is big business afraid of?
Hmmmmmm that is an interesting defense. Not knowing the history of the brewery, it is hard for me to state whether or not that response is genuine or some convoluted argument designed to continue pulling the wool over the eyes of consumers.
In this scenario where does the beer fall, crafty or craft? I independantly own a beer company and don’t use adjuncts in the one beer recipe I sell and have a huge contract brewer make just under 6 million barrels of beer per year for me. Can I market my yellow fizzy water as craft? Would the hip/cool label be required of me to inform drinkers of my intentions to ride the wave?
I think it would be impossible for beer labels to be required to explain who the parent company is for a brewery that is seemingly craft. The BA could support the development of a Good Beer Seal. If the Feds won’t require it then they should do it themselves.
Great question and I don’t think this is the end of the conversation, only the beginning.
Well in your discussion of the subject, you have neglected to discuss the few breweries labelled as Adjunct breweries. Their beers are their own, and they make some great beers. Schell has been doing it for over 150 yrs, to be locked into the same group as Shocktop is pure bullshit.
Knowing intimately the history of Schell’s brewery, I can tell you that it is not a convoluted argument to pull wool over anyone’s eyes. The convolution here lies entirely with the BA definition of what is “craft.” It’s a definition that I have long had issues with. http://growlermag.com/defining-craft-beer/
That said. I think the original BA piece makes good points about knowing who makes your beer. As you rightly point out, it goes way beyond beer. This problem is endemic to our entire food system.
Curious… what are you suggesting then, Ashley?
Good points, but my argument was not about the Brewers Association’s definition of what is craft. It was an argument in favor of transparency in labeling. Consumers deserve to know who really own the companies that make the products that we love and enjoy. And then, when they have been given that information, then they can decide whether or not to drink or eat it. I no longer buy Kashi because it belongs to Kellogs. Does that mean Kashi makes bad products? No, not at all. I find their food to be quite delicious. But, I don’t like supporting companies like Kellogs so I no longer spend my dollar on Kashi.
I’m suggesting exactly what the Brewer’s Association made a call to action for in its statement - transparency. Does this mean transparency in labeling? Most likely, yes. Consumers have the right know who owns the company that makes the product they enjoy. After being educated, they can make a decision on whether or not to purchase said product.
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Transparency is always a good thing, IMHO.
I liked your discussion of ingredient labeling, GMOs and the consumer’s right to know. In the interest of disclosure, don’t you think it’s time we put ingredient and calorie labeling on beer voluntarily? The BA could suggest a standardized format for those who would like to participate. It could include a GMO/nonGMO statement too.
I can assure you that my response to the BA is 100% genuine, and not some convoluted argument designed to continue pulling the wool over the eyes of consumers. We’re a small, family owned brewery, that has always brewed an American Lager. We’ve never tried to hide to hide that from anyone, and are extremely proud of our history and tradition. Lumping us in with the big guys and suggesting that we are some evil giant corporate juggernaut out to destroy craft beer is pretty disingenuous. Seeking to capitalize on the mounting success of craft beer? Hardly. We’ve been brewing all-malt, German style beers for over 30 years now, and were there at the forefront of the whole craft beer revolution. I understand your call for transparency, and we are all for it. Come visit us sometime, I’d be happy to show you or anyone else the brewery so you can see for yourself that there’s nothing “crafty” going on here.
Jace - Thank you for your response! My argument in this post was not in favor of or against the BA’s definition of what is or what isn’t a craft brewer. My argument was in favor of brand ownership transparency. I think it is wonderful that Schells is still family owned, THAT is what American business is supposed to be about. What I am calling for, and what the BA also called for in their statement, is for beer brands to reveal their ownership on their labels. This would not require you, as a privately-owned company, to change your labeling. Essentially, it would require the Bud/ Miller/ Coors/ Fosters etc. brands to reveal that they are brewed by a larger, publicly-traded, foreign-owned company.
As for the definition of a “craft brewer”, I agree with you that the lines get blurry when discussing private, family-owned companies like Schells. The use of the word “traditional” in their definition, as you point out, is a bit questionable and confusing. Hopefully, they will listen to your concerns and adjust the definition accordingly!
As for a visit, I would love to!!
I agree. Well said, woman. (My thoughts on the matter… http://www.heybrewtiful.com/2012/12/poseur-prancer-donner-and-ditzy.html)
We’re never going to get said transparency in beer labeling. It simply has no precedent in consumer goods and I just don’t see the government changing laws for the BA on this matter. Craft brewers also often obscure who brews their beer or what beers they brew, so this runs deeper than just the big guys. I work for a brewery that puts a fictitious brewery’s name on some of the beer that we make because the account we sell it to wants that. Not very craft of us, but then again we also use plenty of corn, though that seems to be OK with the BA because of the specific styles of beer that we use it in.
The only feasible way around this issue is a BA trademark used on beer labels that clearly indicates the status of the beer in the bottle, similar to what the Trappists do. Roll out the program, couple it with a large PR push, and I’m sure it would quickly gain traction. That would be infinitely more productive than this awkward and negative press release and black list (which I guess has since been retracted, proving it’s misguidedness). I still think that most people simply don’t mind if the beer they love is brewed by a large brewer, and those that do care are likely to find out anyway.
I think Blue Moon is the prototypical example of so-called “crafty” because it’s been around the longest. It seems much more likely to me that Coors created Blue Moon Brewing Company to sell the beer not to imitate craft, but to protect the Coors brand from any association with the then very obscure and odd kind of beer they were taking a big chance on. Blue Moon rode on the distribution channels of Coors, but it’s growth was in many ways very organic and actually insanely slow if you consider the typical macro-release mindset.
An accomplished brewer (Keith Villa) with a genuine passion for crafting something different made it happen, even at a brewery like Coors. I can’t hate on that. There was no market for witbier in the US at the time. They weren’t trying to steal anyone’s popularity, just trying to sell beer. All that being said, I don’t drink Blue Moon because I don’t think it’s a good witbier but I can also say the same about countless other beers from so-called craft brewers.