Craft Beer Definition Changes, Slightly

Eno Sarris, March 04, 2014

In baseball, I almost always prefer rate stats to counting stats. Rates -- especially ones that are indexed to league production -- come with easier context. 35 home runs in 2010, 35 home runs in 2001, 35 home runs in 1979, these are all very very different things.

In February, the Brewers' Association met, and they tweaked the definition of a craft brewer. Here's how it stands now, per their press release:

An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional.
· Small: Annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales). Beer production is attributed to the rules of alternating proprietorships.

· Independent: Less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.

· Traditional: A brewer that has a majority of its total beverage alcohol volume in beers whose flavor derives from traditional or innovative brewing ingredients and their fermentation. Flavored malt beverages (FMBs) are not considered beers.

The first change was fairly small. The parenthetical statement -- (approximately 3 percent of U.S. annual sales) -- was added for context. But this is important. It provides a roadmap for what happens as craft beer gets bigger. We've seen this in other contexts, where craft beer was defined by millions of barrels, and the definition had to be changed as Sam Adams got bigger. "Smaller than Sam Adams" doesn't really work if Sam Adams turns into Budweiser. Definining 'small' as a percentage of national sales is a great way to index it to the population as a whole. Now that number can change as craft beer gets more popular.

Now it's a 'rate' stat instead of a counting stat.

The second change was fairly significant to a group of brewers that use adjuncts in their beer. Notice the last bullet point doesnt mention adjuncts. It used to. Look at this infographic from the helpful folks at that represented breweries that used to be considered 'non-craft' because they used too many adjuncts. The breweries that have  "not" listed only in the third column should mostly be welcomed into the craft beer community this year.

It's a mixed bag. You may not be happy about Yuengling be a craft brewer, but it checks the other boxes. And we all know that adjuncts are becoming more and more popular in the craft community.

So a few small changes to the definition were successfully voted into place by an association somewhere. It's not a big deal. Except that both changes meant something important about the future of craft brewing.