Craft Brew Alliance CEO: ‘Don’t Bash Beer’

Andy Thomas speaks at the Brewbound Session in Boston

In a powerful speech, Andy Thomas, the newly-minted CEO of Craft Brew Alliance (CBA), used this year’s annual Beer Summit as a platform to fire specific and cutting remarks at the Brewers Association, the chief representative of the craft brewing movement and one that has tried to classify his products and others as something less than craft.

Taking the stage in front of 300 beer industry professionals and saying he intended to “go back to when we were younger and weren’t afraid to speak our minds,” Thomas leveled a series of charges against high school-style cliques and labels in the beer industry, and instead suggested that brewers worry more about their companies than what they are called by others.

The issue is one of increasing concern as more craft brewers have entered the market and their advocacy organization has increasingly used the news media and publicity campaigns to draw lines delineating craft brands depending on their ownership, size, and ingredients. Those lines have left CBA and other prominent brewers of high-quality beer on the outside looking in.

“We have the honor of having two pioneering craft brands in our portfolio,” Thomas said, referencing Widmer Brothers and Redhook. “Yet, an industry association doesn’t consider us ‘craft.’ Isn’t it time that we stop acting like 13-year olds? That we stop taking ourselves too serious and start talking to consumers and retailers again?”

Thomas elaborated, drawing a link between the socialization models of young adults – the “jocks, stoners and nerds in high school” — and maturing craft brewers.

“We label; we operate in cliques,” he said. “Are you a craft brewer? Did your equity come from a certain place? Do you not use certain ingredients? Name-calling, labeling, craft versus crafty.”

Thomas equated that argument with noise, and suggested that instead of spending time worrying about who gets to be included in the “craft club,” brewers spend more time refining their own business practices.

“What are our fundamentals?” Thomas asked the audience. “Obviously it’s great beer, but what about branding? Are we as good at branding as we really should be? What about our wholesaler relationships? Do we really work together?”

He urged the crowd not to question a beer drinker’s choice, but rather to celebrate it.

“We think our actions are limited to this room; they are not,” he said. “We are leaders of the industry. What we say about each other influences what consumers think about us. Our actions, our words have an effect.”

He continued on with a plea for increased consumer education, suggesting that craft beer could, one day, account for 70 percent of all beer sales.

“Are we really doing what we can to educate consumers about brewers, styles and brands or are we confusing them so much that they will go to something that is easier for them?” he said.

“Is this a movement and not a trend?” Thomas continued, drawing a parallel to Starbucks and the evolution of the coffee industry. “Are we on the cusp of a brave new world?

And, after offering attendees plenty to chew on, Thomas issued this challenge:

“Don’t bash beer,” he said.

Thomas pled for all members of the beer industry to stop the infighting.

“Don’t elevate yourselves by cutting someone else down,” he said. “Don’t make someone question their beer.”

He emphasized his point, over and over again.

“Don’t bash beer,” he said. “Don’t bash craft beer. Don’t bash crafty beer. Don’t bash domestic beer. Don’t bash imported beer. Don’t bash light beer. Don’t bash brands. Don’t bash brewers. Don’t bash beer consumers. Don’t bash retailers or wholesalers. Don’t bash beer — celebrate beer.”

Brewery: Widmer - Craft Brewers Alliance, Inc Website: http://www.widmer.com
Address: 929 N Russell St
Portland, OR 97227-1733
United States
Brewery: Redhook Website: http://www.redhook.com/
Address: 14300 NE 145th Street
Woodinville, WA 98072
United States
Brewery: Kona Brewing Website: http://www.konabrewingco.com
Address: 75-5629 Kuakini Hwy.
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
United States
  • Greg Koch

    It is not bashing. It has nothing to do with being “less than craft” (your words Chris). It has to do with simply not falling within the definition of Craft Beer. This conversation is often mischaracterized as being bashing. The definition does not have attitude or judgement (although it does seem that those who don’t care for the definition seem to want to layer such feelings into it), it simply is a definition.

    • sam k

      Actually, Greg, it has to do simply with not falling within the BREWERS ASSOCIATION’S definition of craft beer…a definition that intentionally excludes most smaller regional brewers (some of them BA members!) while continually manipulating the numbers to inevitably include giants like Boston Beer.

      I will decide for myself what is craft; who is really small, who is truly deserving. The BA is doing the entire industry a disservice by creating guidelines that serve their own (misguided, IMO) best interests, not those of the industry as a whole.

      The Alstroms say “Respect beer,” but only if it’s the kind of beer THEY feel deserves respect. ALL BEER deserves respect, to whatever degree, and I believe that’s the point of Mr. Thomas’s speech. Having grown up at a now-defunct regional brewery, and spending my entire 57 years as an observer of the industry. I agree with his position.

      To quote Rodney King, “Can’t we all just get along?”

    • chrisfurnari

      Appreciate the comments Greg…

      I too believe you mean the “Brewers Association definition of craft beer.” The exact BA definition might not have underlying ‘attitude,’ but many arguments being made publicly (craft versus crafty) and within the inner circles of the beer biz do.

      Folks who “don’t care for the definition” aren’t the only ones layering feelings into a debate, either. There is plenty of finger pointing and name calling from BA-defined craft brewers. But let’s take a moment to consider a couple things:

      First….Way back when, the BA didn’t exactly have a clear definition for what was “craft beer.” In fact, the term didn’t really exist until about 1996. There was a definition for “microbreweries” (and still is) — under 15,000 barrels. When small breweries starting growing past that, the term regional brewery was created. Now, let’s stop to consider the term “regional brewery.” Wouldn’t you agree that it’s pretty meaningless? I mean Stone, for instance, is based in San Diego but sells beer 3,000 miles away in Boston. What about that is “regional?” If you ask me, the only truly regional brewery in the whole country might be New Glarus!

      Second…in 2011, the BA voted to change the definition of craft beer (from 2k to 6k barrels), and admitted that it was done, in part, for lobbying efforts (attempts to lessen the tax burden on smaller brewers even the ones growing past 2M barrels).

      So what’s my point? I guess really that we stop to consider what Andy is saying for a moment… after all the BA’s definition is, like you said, “simply a definition.”

      I think what he’s suggesting is that, instead of spending so much time worrying about who falls within the definition and who doesn’t, let’s spend more time elevating the category and the products within that category (perhaps CBA brands included). That is embodied in his message of “Don’t Bash Beer.”

      His speech was designed to spark debate. It was designed to get people commenting on this story. It was designed to be somewhat divisive. He did begin his presentation by saying “My real intent is to start a discussion.”

      So let’s take it as an opportunity to discuss…as we are!

      CF

      • StephenBody

        “I think what he’s suggesting is that, instead of spending so much time worrying about who falls within the definition and who doesn’t, let’s spend more time elevating the category and the products within that category (perhaps CBA brands included). That is embodied in his message of “Don’t Bash Beer.”

        What Thomas is trying to do here is to blur the very clear distinction that’s become common usage among the nation’s craft beer fans. It’s like what Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart said about pornography: “I don’t know what porn is but I’ll know it when I see it.” We collectively define “craft brewery” as a smaller, independent brewery. If it grows but retains its same ownership and same values, our definition expands to accommodate it. We all understand growth and if the beers remain great, Dogfish or Stone or even Sam Adams is still perceived positively. But, whether it was a coincidence or not (I know not), Red Hook went immediately down the toilet after partnering with AB and hasn’t climbed out since. Widmer is the real victim, here. They still create and achieve at a high level but are tainted, in craft fans’ minds, by the AB/InBev association. Fair? No. Realistic? Very much so. The (recently) stated goal of AB/InBev was summed up in a remark made in their first company-wide gathering after buying Goose Island, “We cannot allow the paradigm to change.” Never mind the fact that the paradigm has already changed, it shows that the goal of AB/InBev remains the undermining of the nation’s craft beer culture and returning them to unquestioned status as the King of Beer. And this is who Kona, Red Hook, Widmer, et al, got into bed with.

        Andy Thomas said nothing that wasn’t utterly predictable. The massive distaste among the country’s craft beer fans against the mega-brewers hurts sales of the CBA brands. This is really his ONLY way – short of simply dissolving all ties with AB/InBev and operating the way ALL of his supposed “bretheren” do: as an independent – to try to wriggle back into the good graces of craft beer fans. But, as usual with guys like him, he’s addressing the wrong crowd. It’s not the folks at the Beer Summit who are his problem. It’s the consumers who see their stuff on the shelves and say, “Meh. More Budweiser crap” and go move on to real craft beers.

    • just love beer

      I thought Greg was on a technology sabbatical? … term Arrogant Bastard continues. CBA beers are every bite as much “Craft” as Boston Beverage company

      • Gary Honickel

        Just FYI, Greg Koch has no relation (to my knowledge) with Jim Koch. Greg is the man behind Stone Brewing and Jim is the man behind Boston BEER Company. I just wanted to bring this up. No offense meant but I know sometimes people may get mixed up.

    • Alan McCormick

      One might argue it has become a distinction without a difference but the Brewers Association does not define “craft beer.” It defines “craft brewer,” and has specifically stayed away from trying to define craft beer. Of course that distinction leaves entirely open the possibility that a non-craft brewer can nevertheless brew craft beer – which seems nonsensical in this whole attempt to distinguish (not bash) between segments of the industry.

      While I agree that creating definitions to distinguish between segments (of any industry) is not the same thing as bashing, the definition is created for a purpose and there are many of us who are not insiders to the industry who have trouble understanding the purpose of this particular definition.

      That’s not to say we don’t recognize many of the issues surrounding “big beer” versus “craft brewers,” but educating us using this definition is proving problematic. Truth in labeling is a concept we get, for example, but it is becoming harder to understand why some is craft and some is not. This is particularly true when, as many of the comments here demonstrate, the BA’s attempt to define “craft brewer” but not “craft beer” is lost on even the most insiders of insiders.

      • http://lewbryson.blogspot.com LewBryson

        The BA DID define “craft beer” a while back — they defined it as “beer made by a craft brewer” — but then they scrubbed that from their website and their publications. Why? Maybe because this stealth definition, never SAYING “craft beer” but only “craft brewer,” is less controversial but just as effective. Or ineffective. I believe that this wrangling will damage “craft beer” as an industry AND as a term; arguing over what is craft beer is going to devalue the term until it’s of use only to marketers.
        Let’s just call it “beer” and let the customers decide, like sam k said above.

  • Jon Piepenbrok

    Agreed, Greg. I appreciate the sentiment of the original speech, and agree with it to an extent, but I do NOT feel like the truth in labeling we are demanding as a CRAFT industry is anywhere near bashing. The confusion and frustration being bred in consumers is being done by the larger brewers who don’t like the definition, because it makes it more difficult for them to confuse and manipulate the end consumer.

    • Guest

      exactly!!!! well said Jon

  • Joe

    Greg, though you are right in that the definition has no attitude or judgement, it does create separateness. Just like having races creates racism. We are really one race, and that is Human. What Andy is saying is correct and we should develop into a more enlightened society of beer lovers and not one of diviseness. Come on Greg, get on board.

    • JoeLikesBeer

      How many more replies until we invoke Godwin’s law?

  • JoeLikesBeer

    Take a look at the first four words of this shill piece. smh.

    • chrisfurnari

      What about the first four words makes this a shill piece, “Joe?”

      I’m not sure if you were in the room yesterday (or if you spoke to any of the Beer Summit attendees) but, if you had been there, you’d know how well Andy delivered his message. Is it the popular opinion? Maybe not. Was it was thought-provoking? Most definitely.

      Clearly the topic is polarizing enough to elicit your reaction in the comments section, as misguided as it may be. To that, I bet Andy would say objective achieved.

      • JoeLikesBeer

        Ok. I’ll bite. Here are some more annoyances.
        - Virtually no presentation of the opposing viewpoint.
        - In addition to “In a powerful speech” you use the phrases “high school style cliques” and “other prominent brewers of high-quality beer” without any sort of (sic) notation
        -The entire third paragraph appears to be your own words and not Thomas’ and it is stating that the BA is using the media to attack Thomas’ brands.

        Basically, this piece reads as a complete endorsement and agreement with Thomas’ viewpoint.

        p.s. I tweet and am at Talkbeer under the same handle. Joe is my real name. You don’t need to put it in quotes like it’s fake.

        • chrisfurnari

          Sorry about the quotes Joe — always hard to tell what people’s actual names are on this thing.

          1.) Consider this piece a “game story” if you will, except there really wasn’t an opponent (or in this case an opposing viewpoint).

          I am reporting on one particular speech, delivered at an industry event…Andy had the stage for 45-minutes, delivered his message and answered a few questions. (I can’t stress enough how important actually being in the audience was to understanding my characterization of the speech as “powerful”).

          2.) I use a phrase like “high school style cliques” because that is what Andy was referencing in his speech. As for the “other prominent brewers,” I think that one is pretty obvious to someone as passionate about the space as yourself, but examples would be Goose Island, NAB, Narragansett etc.

          3.) The entire 3rd paragraph is in fact my own words — that’s actually the nut graph (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nut_graph). Basically I’m explaining to readers why this story matters.

          While I might agree with many of the points Andy made, this piece is far from op-ed. I am simply retelling what happened at an industry event.

          Cheers,

          • Just love beer

            I thought Greg was on a technology sabbatical? … term Arrogant Bastard continues. CBA beers are every bite as much “Craft” as Boston Beverage company.

          • Ih8STONE

            Greg is a douche

          • Greg Koch

            I wish I could upvote this more than once. I’ll ask mom to create an account and do it for me.

          • Aaron Brodniak

            I agree that one should not “bash” beers, brands or companies. However, when consumers discover something they perceive as issues with quality and truth in labeling then I believe these present separate issues. For example, AB InBev has engaged in cost cutting strategies that some consumers were upset with such as producing an import domestically and changing the standards for their quality of ingredients. I highly recommend the article The Plot to Destroy America’s Beer featured in Bloombergs Business week from
            http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-10-25/the-plot-to-destroy-americas-beer

            On a personal note, I recently enjoyed a Goose Island IPA and still partake in Widmer beers. However, with so many unique beers on the market I tend to reach for what is local.

          • David fields

            There is one significant point left of of this discussion of what I call “hater” talk… We should celebrate brand BEER more often! I have never heard a wide producer, distributor, retailer of blogger refer to anyone else’s product as crap. Nor do they tell a consumer they shouldn’t drink a particular wine that person may happen to like – in effect determining in a very demeaning way that someone else had lousy taste. I’ve seen a retailer who actually had a slogan ‘we don’t let people drink crap beer’. Now how intelligent is that when it comes to elevating the image of Brand Beer in the eyes of consumers versus wine or spirits? I think this slash was more about our industry stopping the bickering about defining each others beer and starting to elevate or discussion about why beer vs. Wine and spirits.

          • StephenBody

            Then you haven’t been around much. I sell wine for a living, along with beer and spirits. I’ve tossed two winemakers out of my office in the past year for bad-mouthing other wineries. In 22 years at this, I’ve had similar episodes at least fifty times. Don’t kid yourself. There is nothing inherently more lofty, noble, of more ethical about wine than any other commodity.

          • StephenBody

            Her’s the last line from that third graf that you DO claim ownership of:

            ” Those lines have left CBA and other prominent brewers of high-quality beer on the outside looking in.”

            Your use of the term “high quality beers” reveals your fundamental bias for the content of Thomas’ speech. Who defined these as “high-quality beers”? Was it you? I think many consumers, maybe most craft beer fans, would NOT offer that description. That very reality is exactly what gave birth to Thomas’ views. As a magazine and newspaper writer for over forty years, I can state unequivocally what every experienced writer knows intimately: the TONE and subtext of a piece of prose carries just as much weight as the words themselves. In some cases, more. Throughout the whole post, you ladle on Thomas’ remarks with a rah-rah enthusiasm, in asides like:

            “And, after offering attendees plenty to chew on…”

            “Thomas pled for all members of the beer industry to stop the infighting.”

            “He urged the crowd not to question a beer drinker’s choice, but rather to celebrate it.”

            These are old and rather basic rhetorical tricks and you fell for them. Poor old Andy, the voice of reason, asking, PLEADING for peace and an end to the “infighting”, which he conveniently fails to qualify as infighting that involves mostly CBA vs. other craft brewers. There’s not a whole lot of infighting going on between 98% of the BA membership, so what’s he talking about? EASY: Quit pickin’ on US, you meanies. He urged the crowd not to question the BEER DRINKER’S choice but to celebrate it? Nobody’s questioning any consumer’s choices. They’re questioning the legitimacy of a trade group that’s propped up by backing of their common enemy; the cynical, arrogant bunch whose own history clearly shows that they’ll use ANY tactic – from tied houses to buy ‘n’ shutter to scorn, misinformation, and outright lies to make sure they retain their hegemony in American beer.

            You can shill for these corporate crap-weasels all you like but you’ll notice that I’m not the first to use the term “shill”…and I won’t be the last, either.

          • chrisfurnari

            Appreciate your viewpoint on this Stephen. I did my best to capture the energy and enthusiasm that Andy brought to his presentation. I’m sorry that you — and apparently many consumers and “most craft beer fans” — feel CBA products are not quality. I’m not sure what empirical evidence you have to support that claim — have you tested their beers in a lab? Did you conduct a consumer survey? Are you basing it off of consumer reviews (most of which are above-average scores on Beer Advocate)?

            If you ask me, sounds a lot like you are questioning every single consumer that has ever purchased a CBA beer when you make the claim that “most consumers don’t view their beers as quality.” I’d challenge that claim by offering up the numerous collaborations between Widmer/Redhook and craft brewers in that “98%,” (Cigar City, Hilliard’s Logsdon etc.) but that’s just me. Either way, it doesn’t really matter — Andy set out to start discussion which is exactly what happened. As I mentioned above, I tried my best to capture Andy’s voice. I’m sorry if you are reading my “tone” as something else.

            It’s funny, Andy also made a comment during his speech about “seeing the forest and not just the trees.” I think that rings especially true right now.

          • StephenBody

            Here’s how I know this, Chris: I run the largest online beer retailer in the US and we get feedback every single day about what we sell. Because we’re based in Redmond, WA, we decided to sell Red Hook. The response was immediate and certain: we didn’t sell ONE bottle and a flood of people complained. We DO sell Widmer’s Reserve Series and some limited releases and if you’re going to reply at all, DO NOT put words into my mouth. I never said that consumers don’t think CBA products are “quality”. I disputed YOUR use of the subjective term “HIGH quality”. YOU wrote that, not me. You could have simply said that “Those lines have left CBA and other prominent brewers on the outside looking in.” or even “Those lines have left CBA and other reputable brewers of on the outside looking in.” YOU chose to characterize CBA as “high quality beers”, a judgment that MOST of our 100,000+ members would consider ludicrous.

            As for the “seeing the forest and not just the trees” remark, Thomas conveniently uses that to try to turn something that’s very specifically-focused into something broader and less pointed about him and his association with AB/InBev. Nobody’s bashing beer drinkers, here, least of all me, who makes his entire living from their generosity. The PROBLEM, whether you or Andy Thomas wants to see it or not, is between independent makers of craft beers and the fans who love and support them and with outfits like CBA, who want an easy and convenient end-run on the process of growing a craft brewery and partner with Craft Beer’s Public Enemy Number One to get it. Then they whine and piss and moan about how people are bashing them and, “Hey. we’re craft too!”…except that they decided that the admirable struggle, the independence, the climb based on their own merits, was somehow either unreachable or beneath them. This is NOT going to change, no matter how much Thomas whines and you prevaricate: Teaming up with AB = loss of craft beer cred. Period.

          • chrisfurnari

            I think you will see my response above but I’ll respond to your attack on semantics. I wrote “…and other prominent brewers of high-quality beer.” I’m not passing judgement on any specific product but rather simply saying that brewers who make high-quality beer are being left out of the definition. We can debate what constitutes “quality” until the cows come home, but I’ll elect to spare my breath.

            On a separate note, I find it fascinating how you chose to describe your role at LetsPour — “I run the largest online retailer etc…” If we’re being 100% honest, judging by your LinkedIn, you are a wine/beer consultant and writer for the site. Looks like a fellow by the name of Raghav Kher, the CEO and founder, “runs” the company, but I guess now I’m debating semantics, aren’t I?

            Again, I find it incredibly fascinating how you know so much about Andy’s intent with his speech and how you are able to make generalizations like “nobody is bashing beer drinkers.”

          • StephenBody

            My business relationship with my partners is not exactly a big secret but I don’t go around trumpeting it, either. I don’t mind that you looked it up but what’s on the internet is exactly what I mean to appear on the internet. Whassamatter, Chris? Bruised feelings? Tough stuff, pal. He who writes it owns it. Welcome to reality.

          • Schwartz

            “Teaming up with AB = loss of craft beer cred.Period’
            I’d be curious of your thoughts on Goose Island. Id have a hard time with someone arguing that they are all of a sudden not Craft and have no craft beer cred now that ABI owns them outright.

          • chrisfurnari

            Great point Schwartz. It reminded me that Stephen had said this up top…

            “I, for one, judge beers by What’s In The Bottle, period. I recently reviewed Goose Island and gave Bourbon County Stout 100 points, knowing full well that it would benefit AB.”

            So what is it Stephen? Do you judge on what’s in the bottle or “cred?” You can’t have it both ways…

          • StephenBody

            Sure I can. I can refuse to taste the stuff. I hedged on that for a while, because of my long-held love of Goose Island. But that’s over now. I won’t write anything else about GI or ANY AB/InBev property. I’m not about to help Satan screw the craft beer culture.

          • Schwartz

            Bet you are selling the crap out of the Redhook KCCO Black Lager!

          • StephenBody

            We tried it and didn’t sell a bottle. Now it’s sitting in my warehouse. I tried to give the case to a delivery guy and our property manager. This is Seattle. Nobody’s fooled by this stuff here.

          • Rich Maletto

            One thing that has not been pointed out, is that the “hate” started with the big guys specifically AB. They extorted shelf space they got a slap on the wrists back in the late 70′s that didn’t stop their cause. Then tried again in the 90s. They created their own monster in my eyes. I had been boycotting AB for that long before we had some of the great craft beers of today. If AB could they would shoot for owning 100% share, the only reason i think we are hearing don’t bash beer is because AB has money and power. They don’t like the fact that to most hard core beer consumers look at AB as an inferior product. Frankly they are, they do not spend the time and effort in developing top quality beers or variety of beers. They are a marketing machine, and this is just another way to spin the marketing for their own gain. Sorry they will not get any support from me.

          • StephenBody

            The history of AB’s marketplace chicanery goes back to the early part of the 20th century, with their “tied house” strategy, in which they paid the rent of tavern owners who agreed to sell no other beers but Budweiser, and their habit of discrediting – and in some cases simply lying about – smaller breweries who showed to much of a competitive potential. If the strategy of sneering at them failed, AB usually just bought the brewery and closed it or turned it into a satellite brewing Facility for their beers. Add to that the shelf-domination they got by lowering prices to accounts who agreed to stock mostly AB and their hundreds of millions spent of the sort of advertising and promotions NO smaller brewery could afford, and the idea of a level playing field in American brewing was never even a fantasy for any other brewer, even Miller and Coors. They’ve even, recently, tried to run Boulevard out of taverns in Missouri and got smacked when Boulevard created a Pilsner with a label suggestive of Bud and ran AB out of those taverns. What the big brewers just don’t get is that craft brewing is here to stay and there is NOTHING they can do about it. According to the latest ATF figures, there are now 3,700 licensed craft breweries in the US. AB/InBev and MillerCoors COMBINED can’t buy out all that and they know damned well they can’t compete on quality. So, the fact that Thomas is out there weeping about unfairness should come as no surprise to anybody.

  • Josh Beer fan #43

    Are we concerned that Mega Brewer “A” has their name on every product they own yet the brewpub down the street gets a pass? What if that brewpub was started by three investors making gobs of money in the housing bubble with credit default swaps, screwing millions of homeowners for profit? Is their beer okay? What is the gain in knowing who made it? So you can prejudice yourself against it without an open mind? At the end of the day, what matters is what is in the glass. Craft had meaning 20 years ago when the gap between mega and micro was significant. Are you telling me in 10 years when Sierra, Lagunitas, Sam Adams and others brush up on the 6 million bbl ceiling they will no longer be Craft? Or will we move the goal posts again? Finally, just because someone sources the ingredients from their backyard and delivers kegs via skateboard to their local accounts doesn’t mean it should be called Craft beer. Any schmuck can make a beer, its easy. The essence of Craft is making GREAT beer with the BEST ingredients available…period. Size doesn’t matter. That the mega breweries continue to churn out mediocre product when they have the ability to produce great beer is their choice, not a criticism. But we don’t need to exclude them nonetheless.

  • Robert Matranga

    It would help (me at least) if BA provided some more “why” for its definition. Some of the numbers seem arbitrary or post hoc. Why 6 million (other than it keeps us in, and them out); why 25% (other than…); why x flagship or 50% volume in x or y. “Craft Beer” as used by BA is a position of advocacy for its members, and the numbers (at least the size/ownership numbers) determine which members are eligible to vote. So from that angle, there is really little controversy about it–BA is certainly entitled to decide voting qualifications for members. Only those wanting a vote in BA have to abide by the definition.

  • Simon

    Agree. Particularly don’t bash light beer. It’s easily done but millions of people up and down the country enjoy it – with friends at the game, on a hot day, while grilling, on the beach, etc. Embrace these moments and how they are improved by a simple refreshing cold beer to embrace those customers.

    If you are looking to reach 70% market share insulting the choice of the largest market for beer does nothing.

    Perceived snobbery causes resentment.

  • http://www.beerwrangler.com/ Jonny Tyson

    Even though the BA and others ( like Brewdog in the UK have tried to codify what a craft beer or craft brewery is, there is never going to be international agreement on this definition. Giant multinationals produce some great beer made by committed and talented brewers under some of their smaller brands. This shouldn’t exclude those beers from being considered as “craft”. What we shouldn’t do is attack and bash those brewers and beers just because of their ownership. Expanding people’s tastes away from bland mass produced beer will include some ‘crafty’ beers. Here’s a post with my reaction to Brewdog’s efforts. http://www.beerwrangler.com/is-there-such-a-thing-as-craft-beer/

  • StephenBody

    He can rationalize this out any way he likes. If the public sees the Craft Brew Alliance as a tool of AB/InBev because of their backing, he’s just going to have to live with that prejudice and take his lumps. If the CBA is worried enough about it, they can always cut ties, buy our AB/InBev, and stand alone, the way ALL their “bretheren” do, and reclaim their independent status. I, for one, judge beers by What’s In The Bottle, period. I recently reviewed Goose Island and gave Bourbon County Stout 100 points, knowing full well that it would benefit AB. But the beer merited it. I always point to the classic case study: Red Hook vs. Widmer. When each allied themselves with AB, they had a choice: adopt AB’s ideas about brewing efficiency and cost analysis or don’t. Red Hook did and it ran them so far into the red that they almost folded. Widmer continued to make their own beers and they’ve continued to be a fine brewery, while Red Hook, here in its own back yard, is not even an afterthought. NOBODY considers them a great brewery, anymore, and they’ve sadly fallen into AB’s old trick of solving poor public perception by trying to obscure their shortcomings with marketing: new bottle shape (since abandoned), collabo with Dan Patrick or some other sports guy, endless ads…when what they really, desperately NEED is simply to MAKE BETTER BEER. Andy Thomas can put lipstick on his pig all he likes. When he says “Don’t bash beer”, he misses the truth. We’re not bashing beer, Andy. We’re bashing your cheesebag ownership.

    • chrisfurnari

      Stephen –

      I think you might be confusing the performance of the Widmer and Redhook brands somewhat. Redhook shipments were up 21% in Q3, 2013 while Widmer shipments were “flat.” Widmer Hefe has continued to bleed barrels last few years while Kona and Redhook have been carrying the CBA portfolio. It is true that, for a period of time, Redhook performed poorly (pre 2011), but that seems to have subsided. Also, it’s difficult to draw a comparison between Goose Island BCBS and the types of beers Redhook creates (unapologetically for the crossover drinker).

      As for ownership — keep in mind that ABI controls about 33% of CBA in exchange for access to their distribution network. Buying back that ownership, or part of it, would likely result in a loss of access to a seamless distribution system and would put the company at a serious competitive disadvantage. Also, I’m guessing CBA shareholders would have their concerns about that type of decision.

      Cheers,

      • StephenBody

        I’m not concerned AT ALL with the “performance” of the brands but I think it’s telling that you do. What I’m talking about is that Red Hook is washed up, right here in their own back yard. NOBODY in the Washington beer culture EVER mentions Red Hook in ANY list of our best breweries or beers in the Northwest. I’m sure their sales are just peachy; that’s why they partnered with A B, after all. People all over the US drink Red Hook but those of us who originally supported the brand have watched their quality sink to the craft equivalent of Bud. Meanwhile, among NW beer fans, Widmer still commands respect and if their bottom line is suffering vs. Red Hook and Kona, it’s probably because there is simply so much more competition up here, now.

        Look, if your only yardstick for the performance or quality of a brewery is sales figures, it makes perfect sense that you decided to write this starry-eyed puff piece about Andy Thomas. Your attitude is the exact problem that craft beer fans have with the CBA: commercialism over quality and integrity. This is not going to change: CBA is one-third OWNED by AB/InBev. That makes them suspect, or even a sell-out, in the minds of MOST craft beer fans. That’s it, period, end of story. Thomas can whine about it all he likes, the simple fact is that, where AB is involved, there’s MASSIVE mistrust and outright scorn and hatred. And that is NOT going to change.

        • chrisfurnari

          Appreciate your passion Stephen. It’s great that there are folks, like yourself, who have so much passion about a consumer packaged good that they are willing to engage in a public discourse for more than 24 hours.

          I’m not going to try and argue any of your opinions — you are entitled to those. I will however caution you from generalizing…saying things like “NOBODY” or “MOST” doesn’t lend much credence to your position statements.

          I’d also urge you to consider some other “crafty” examples (outside of ABI or CBA). Terrapin is less than 25% owned by MillerCoors, does that make them suspect? Boston Beer Company has made a habit of growing through non-beer products (tea and cider), creating a wholly-owned subsidiary that acts as a craft beer incubator and an acquirer (trademarks to Just Beer, New Albion and the Coney Island brand). Are these examples crafty? Would “MOST” craft beer fans consider Boston Beer or Terrapin to be a “sell-out?”

          As someone who has spent considerable time interviewing and listening to Andy speak, I can unequivocally say that he doesn’t “whine.”

          Again, I appreciate your passion for beer. I just think your arguments need to be grounded in something other than your own opinion in order to carry any weight.

          Cheers,

    • anonanonanonanon

      AB doesnt run CBA like they used to, CBA stepped away from much of ABs ‘guidance’
      -ab distributor craft director

      • StephenBody

        Doesn’t make ANY difference. Perception is what matters to people’s buying decisions, that and the simple quality of the product. As lon g as the affiliation exists, CBA WILL be tainted with the loathing for AB/InBev. You can explain that all you like. It won’t change the way they’re perceived unless they **loudly and publicly** sever all ties with AB.

  • Gary Honickel

    From my perspective (Beer Drinker) I do understand where he is coming from. We all knock certain beers because of who owns them and what they use to make their beer. Oddly enough, the Craft Beer Alliance gets a lot of flak for having “Big Beer” be a main investor in the alliance but many do not bat as much of an eye over the small conglomerates (Florida Ice & Farm Co. and The Gambrinus Company ) or the Breweries directly owned by Big Beer (i.e. Goose Island).

    I say, let taste win. Personally, I don’t like Kona Beers. I have tried them several times and never was really a fan. I have tried the Omission beers and found them to be really good. I actually don’t remember having some of the two other beers in the portfolio. Again, from my personal standpoint, “Craft” comes from making good quality beer.

  • Allen Quinn

    This is not the schoolyard of our childhood, this is the schoolyard of the newly sensitive; no one can be left out or ever lose, we must all be celebrated for out effort, etc., etc. Long as CBA, 10th & Blake and the like deliberately try to hide who they are in packaging, and in representing themselves through distributors, salespeople and advertising. I am not saying you are not great brewers, ones who have spent years perfecting their craft. No, you have great brewing skills, amazing QC standards, unlimited resources, and ridiculous technology at your disposal. You should be respected for that, and for growing such a strong brand. The craft side of the industry would not exist without you, but you make a product that is the exact opposite of what craft beer is, yet strive to manipulate the consumer into thinking you are one and the same. I could put the word Artisinal on a loaf of pepperidge farm white bread, but it wouldn’t change what it is.

  • John

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
    The Craft vs. Crafties discussion will hurt us all in the eyes of the very newer generation that loves unique beers. We are sliding into the very pattern of criticizing each other, as the brewers did in the fifty’s and 60′s! Let’s call a truce and just make great beer.

  • kennethetucker

    Talk about your ‘buried lead’ >> “…suggesting that craft beer could, one day, account for 70 percent of all beer sales.” Na Zdravi! | #ADKBREWCO

  • Rich Maletto

    I have a real problem with the whole “don’t bash beer” comment. AB has twice been investigated (1978 and again in early 90s) for illegal marketing. They went to the distributors and said if you carry XYZ brand/s you can’t carry any of our beer products. Basically leading to the closing of the few remaining regional breweries. When they tried that again in the 90s it didn’t work. My point, these big companies want to force micro/regional/craft breweries out of business so that they can reap the rewards of having that 88% marketshare AB and MillerCoors had the luxury of owning. They have either tried to hid thier new brands by calling it craft or changing the packagine, or as AB has done, buy up craft breweries to have a stake in the game.
    The point being, these big companies only care about selling large volumes. They can claim all the quality they want, but I have worked with them and all they are about is cutting cost. Not making a higher quality beer. Beer is money making to them, not that it isn’t for anyone running a business but some business take more pride in their products. The big breweries take pride in owning the market.

    For me I can’t support any of the beers linked to these companines as I see them as a direct threat to craft and quality beers. Now for me Goose Island is an odd duck for me. I refuse to buy Honkers Ale or 312 as I know they are brewed at AB’s big breweries. But what about the seasonal small batches they run in Chicago? I get the profits, in part go to AB, but aren’t those beers in Chicago still craft? I enjoy those particular beers you can taste the quality, unlike the Honkers Ale which just has not tasted the same.

    I am sorry I will continue to bash the cheap beer from the big guys. Mostly because I think it’s terrible beer, and because I know the only reason they are “warming up” to the craft industry is to save a dollar. If they could they would crush it again, like they once did.