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  • craft beer, definitions, & regulations

    years ago, in the late 90's i believe, i remember a lot of discussion about the definition of organic. at the time, there were various state and regional definitions regulating the organic industry. the concern was these regulations would be diminished with government oversight. well, government regulation happened, but industry still seems to be finding ways to develop improved definitions of organic methods...at least walking past the Whole Foods meat counter seems to tell such a story. i can only imagine smaller producers are doing the same.

    so, i'm good with organic. as much as possible, my wife and i are committed to the idea. so now, as i'm exploring craft beer, i find new interest in how the industry is regulating itself. what makes a brew "craft"? what makes a brew "beer"?

    to address the purchase of craft breweries by macrobrewing companies (such as Anheuser-Bush, MillerCoors, etc.) the Brewers Association drew a line. for American craft brewers, production must be less then 6 million barrels annually, and macrobrews can hold less than 25% control or ownership. (article here) in this instance, the small brews are enforcing definitions on the industry.

    on the other hand, federal regulations in the US are what differentiate beer from being alchohol versus food. specifically, all american beer must have hops. if this article shares some truth (why would it not), the history of beer allowed for more experimentation. time will tell how experiments continue to grow in the beer community.

    does any of this matter? i'm not certain, but personally i disagree with James Francis, director of the Beverage Business Institute.  "I think a small percentage, who would be craft beer snobs, would really care about (connecting to a craft brewers story and community)," Francis said. "Otherwise, I think they are more concerned about what is in the bottle and whether or not they like it." 

    there is a new breed of craft makers and consumers in the US. we could argue many reasons for this, and only time will tell if it's a blip or will change things for the long run. maybe it's associated with ideals of sustainability. maybe it's about transparency. perhaps it's related to the local foods movement and farmers markets. no matter the reason, the definition matters. why would the macrobreweries want to hide themselves within the craft label unless it's impacting their marketshare? kudos to the Brewers Association for at least making a claim on "craft".

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