Why you should care about local craft brewers (column)
Dogfish Head and RAR Brewing founders explain why craft breweries work together. Produced by Ryan Marshall and Megan Raymond
It’s tough to talk about what distinguishes craft beer without getting a little kumbaya, mostly because the intangibles set craft beer apart from its multinational-owned counterparts.
During the last five or so years, companies like Anheuser-Busch InBev, the Belgium company that owns Anheuser-Busch among other breweries, have gone from ignoring craft beer, to mocking it, to buying some of the top-rated craft breweries in the country.
This evolution was at its core just good business sense. Tastes were changing and it only made sense to invest in the future of beer.
Earlier this month, with an air of of turnabout is fair play, the Brewers Association, which represents small independent brewers, announced its intention to purchase “Big Beer” for a cool $213 billion.
“Take Craft Back” is a quixotic crowdfunding campaign aimed more at raising awareness than raising money. The website asks people to pledge an amount (no credit card required) and rewards sponsors with a token gift like a bumper sticker or beer koozie promoting the “Independent Craft Certified” movement.
At its heart, it is an education campaign that’s aimed at changing the conversation about craft beer among people who care about such things. Along the way, the country’s independent brewers want to convince more people to care about the difference and be better educated consumers. Or at least more savvy ones.
The difficulty is that for most Americans the line between “craft beer” and “macro-beer” was drawn awhile ago. Millions of drinkers got a taste for IPAs or for Belgian Whites and used flavor and quality as the delineation between craft and macro.
That’s where perception stayed as macro beers either produced their own “craft-y” brands or bought up formerly independent craft beer companies. Essentially, they had let the craft beer industry do the marketing for them and in the process muddied the waters when it came to what “real” craft beer is.
Craft beer isn’t about the quality of the product or the will to be innovative, although those are big parts of the craft brewing industry. It isn’t the size or the processes used to make the beer either. By these standards there isn’t a measurable difference between a local independent craft brewery like Dogfish Head and a craft-y brewery that is owned by a multinational, like the popular Goose Island.
Craft beer is attitudinal and just a little bit nationalistic, which likely is among the reasons behind emphasizing independent craft.
For the Brewers Association, “independent” has a specific sense, having to do with what percentage of a brewery is owned by a liquor conglomerate and what is owned by independent investors or entrepreneurs. In the larger sense, though, is the idea that the ownership of the brewery is going to do what is best for the beer and the beer drinkers.
Certainly independent brewers worry about the bottom line, but also in terms of being able to make beer than in being able to make dividends.
Speaking of the bottom line, that is where it is someplace between important and critical to take the notion of independent craft beer seriously. Local breweries tend to keep their profits in their own neighborhoods or at least in the states where they make their beer.
It’s been said before that craft breweries are economic engines that can help revive otherwise flagging local economies.
Still in all, most aspects of independent craft don’t have the kind of material effect on people’s lives that, say, choosing a Ford over a Toyota does. But if you’re among those who prefers a craft beer what is tangible is that the threat from craft-y beers is real.
Independent beers are regularly and routinely squeezed from being on tap at bars and from package store shelves in favor of beers owned by mega beer companies. While a lot of people don’t care deeply about one beer or another, most people care about choice, and the things that local beers do preserve our choice in a way that is just not practical or interesting to the multinationals.
So the larger point is, if you are among those who really like drinking craft beer, it is in your interest to find out who is making it and to at least let that information be part of your decision, so that you’re still deciding.