- The Brewers Association, a trade group representing small and independent craft beer makers, introduced a new seal to show which beverages are independently produced, according to a statement from the group.
- The seal, an upside down beer bottle with the words "Certified Independent Craft," can be used for free by any of the more than 5,300 small and independent American craft breweries. The Brewers Association defines a craft producer as having annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less, and where no more than 25% of the ownership comes from a non-craft entity.
- The group said as big beer companies acquire craft brands, beer drinkers have become increasingly confused about which companies remain independent. More than 1,000 breweries already have adopted the seal.
The number of breweries in the U.S. has increased from 1,447 in 2005 to more than 5,300 in 2017. Much of that expansion is tied to craft brews. Today, the segment is responsible for about 10% of domestic beer production. The craft segment has been especially attractive to the millennial crowd through the introduction of big and bold flavors with unique names such as Brew Free! or Die IPA and Hoptimus Prime.
It's no wonder that big beer companies AB InBev and MolsonCoors have snapped up several small craft makers during the last year. AB InBev closed its purchase of craft brewery Devils Backbone last September, and two months later, announced it would buy Texas-based craft brewer Karbach Brewing Co., one of the fastest-growing U.S. craft beer brands. MolsonCoors also has bought several craft beer makers.
Jim Koch, the chairman of Boston Beer who helped pioneer the craft brew craze more than three decades ago, said in April that the Justice Department is allowing further consolidation in the beer industry by greenlighting acquisitions of craft breweries that make up the remaining 10% of domestic output.
“The Department of Justice needs to look very closely at the ability of the big brewers to buy up competition,” Koch told Food Dive on the sidelines of the Beverage Forum in Chicago. “The [government] should view its job as encouraging the long-term competitiveness of the U.S. beer industry.”
It's uncertain exactly how effective the new logo will be in boosting craft beer sales, and it's unlikely to scare off a bigger company looking to expand into the popular space. Ultimately, if a craft beer tastes good and consumers already enjoy it, it could be hard for them to stop drinking it even if they find out it's now owned by a big company with dozens of other brands in their portfolio. And for some successful craft beers, the seal could mark them as a victim of their own success, making them a takeover target for a big beer company.
"Beer lovers are interested in transparency when it comes to brewery ownership," Bob Pease, president and CEO of the Brewers Association, said in the statement about the new seal. "This seal is a simple way to provide that clarity — now they can know what’s been brewed small and certified independent.”
The new craft beer logo is one small step by the industry's smaller players to separate themselves from the big breweries and further define their product as something that is flavorful and one of a kind — but it may be an effort that is too little, too late.