What Classifies a Craft Brew?
“What makes a craft brew, a craft brew?” I innocently asked. The man looked at me, as if I were still in high school, barely old enough to drink a soda, let alone a beer. He replied, with a perplexed look on his face, “As long as you produce less beer than Sam Adams, you’re considered a craft brewery.” I thought to myself, “Seriously?”
Now, I don’t recall where I was (it was one of those nights), but I was speaking to a Boulder beer aficionado, or so I thought. This idea of what classifies a craft brew slipped my mind, until a recent argument over the prestige of Sam Adams. My Boston-bred boyfriend continuously tried to convince me that Sam Adams brewed the best Oktoberfest. I am not hating on Sam Adams – I even applied to work at the Boston Beer Company, but come on Brad, you can’t be serious.
Anyways, back to the beer. I pondered, was it true that the classification for craft brews could be that simple? If you produce less than Sam Adams you’re considered craft? I was on a quest to find out!
The conclusion that I discovered, set in stone by the Boulder-based Brewers Association, was a checklist of three important aspects: Small, Independent, & Traditional. In order to be considered a craft brewery you must produce a small amount – 6 million barrels or less a year. You must also be independently run, allowing for no more than 25% of your brewery to be owned/controlled by an alcohol-related backer who does not abide by the craft brewery regulations. Lastly, a craft brew’s “flavor [must] derive[s] from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation” (Brewers Association).
The classification of craft breweries does not stop there. Even within Craft Breweries there are four distinct categories: Microbreweries, Brewpubs, Contract Brewing Companies, and Regional Craft Breweries. Now, I am not going to get into the logistics of each distinction, but if you’re interested, my friends at the Brewers Association are willing to help!
I know this can be a bit confusing, so if you’re ever wondering whether your can is a craft, or the cultivation of a macro-brewery just check the label. If it’s a true craft then you will see the Independent Craft Brewer Seal (an upside down bottle). This label was put in effect this past year by the Brewers Association, in order to protect independent brewers.
And yes, before I forget, Sam Adams does play a role in the classification of a craft brew. As one of the founders of craft beer, an innovator in beer culture, Sam Adams sets the bar as the largest craft brewery. The Brewers Association has even changed their classification for what makes a craft brew due to an increase in Sam Adams’ barrels. So yes, Sam Adams is the standard for craft brews, and a pioneer in the industry alone.