Video: A Crafty Collision

Brewers respond to BA comments

Statement from August Schell Brewing Company:

We here at the August Schell Brewing Company would like to take this time to respond to the recent media offensive that the Brewers Association has launched against ‘faux-craft’ or ‘crafty’ brewers. We whole-heartedly believe in breweries being transparent, and the consumers right to know who is producing their beer, and where it is being made. Where we take issue, is their definition of what constitutes a craft brewer, and the fact that we have been in a sense, been “black listed.”

In 2005, the Association of Brewers, and the Brewers’ Association of America merged to form the Brewers Association to “promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.” With the merger, they decided to create a set of guidelines of who is and isn’t a craft brewer in an attempt to essentially kick out the big guys. Their definition stated that a craft brewer is “small, independent, and traditional.” Three things that the big guys supposedly weren’t. The problem with those guidelines is that it ended up excluding some of their largest members, so they changed their definition and made exceptions repeatedly to make sure they were included in their group. We apparently were not important enough, and were thus no longer considered a “craft brewery,” because according to their definition, we’re not “traditional.” As a 152-year-old brewery, and the second oldest family-owned brewery in America, stating that we are not “traditional” is insulting.

Their definition of what makes a traditional brewer, and thus a ‘craft brewer,’ comes down to the use of adjuncts. Big brewers often use adjuncts in excess amounts to cut down on brewing costs, and to lighten their beers- the opposite of what the craft beer movement is all about. While this is true for them, it is also a very shortsighted view of brewing in America, and most definitely not the case for in our brewery. When August Schell emigrated from Germany and founded this brewery in 1860, his only option to brew was to use was available to him, as it was impossible to ship large quantities of raw ingredients from Europe at that time. The high quality, two-row malting barley he could use back home, wasn’t native to North America. Instead, he had to use the locally grown, but much higher protein, 6-row barley to brew his beer. When he decided that he wanted to produce a high quality, clear and stable, golden lager, he had to cut down that protein content somehow. In order to accomplish this, he used a small portion of another locally grown ingredient he called “mais” as is hand written in our old brewing logs, better known as corn. He didn’t use corn to cheapen or lighten his beer. He did it because it was the only way to brew a high quality lager beer in America at that point. By the time high quality two-row malting barley was finally cultivated and available to use, our consumers had already been drinking our high quality beers for many years. We continued to brew our beer using this small portion of corn because that was the way we traditionally brewed it.

The question we have for the Brewers Association is why are we being punished for brewing with a locally grown ingredient, which started out of necessity, and has continued out of tradition? And why is it only bad to use adjuncts if you are brewing an American Lager, yet perfectly acceptable to use them in basically any Belgian style of beer, IPA’s or double IPA’s? The use of adjuncts in those styles is to lighten the beer, period. Labeling us as strictly an “adjunct brewer” as you so kindly have in your list of ‘Domestic, Non-Craft Brewers,’ is false. What you fail to give us credit for is that we also make a dozen traditional German-style beers that are all-malt and have never contained adjuncts. Yes, we brew our American Lager beers with a small portion of corn. This is the traditional way we’ve always brewed them, and the way we will continue to brew them. Have you looked at the price of corn lately? For us, it’s more expensive than malt. If we were so concerned about producing the cheapest beer possible, our American Lagers would be all malt! We brew them this way because that is the way we always have done it, not because it is cheaper. We put the same amount of pride and effort into producing our American Lagers as we do our line-up of all-malt “specialty” beers, since we can’t dare call them “craft.” I know for a fact the same holds true for our friends at the Yuengling and Straub breweries. For you to say that the three oldest, family-owned breweries in America are “not traditional” is downright disrespectful, rude and quite frankly, embarrassing. If you want to keep us on your list of shame, then so be it. That is your decision. We will continue to pour our heart and soul into every drop of beer that we make in this small, independent, and traditional brewery. Just like every other craft brewery out there does, and just like we have done for over a century and a half. Shame on you.

- Jace Marti, August Schell Brewing Company

Statement from Tom Cardella:

Anyone who visits Jacob Leinenkugel Brewing Company in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin will understand the blood, sweat and tears that went into building that brewery, and they’ve continued brewing amazing beers for 145 years. And anyone who spends time chatting with Blue Moon Brewing Company founder and brew master Keith Villa will understand the passion and creativity that have gone into developing his Artfully Crafted beers for 17 years. To question the quality of these beers due to their size or success is doing a disservice to the entrepreneurs who created them, and to beer drinkers who love them. Most beer drinkers don’t get hung up on industry definitions, which often change. They just enjoy drinking great beer. Whether people call them craft or some other title is fine with us. We’ll just keep brewing great beer.

Brewery: August Schell Brewing Co Website: http://www.schellsbrewery.com
Address: P.O. Box 128
New Ulm, MN 56073-0128
United States
  • Nanobrewer

    I was uncomfortable with BA position and found it introducing drama where none was needed.

  • LowBrau

    I think the point was for the big brewers to put their names on the bottles. For example, Wild Blue, a bluebeery lager, makes no reference to AB as the brewer. For retailers who may be trying to support the smaller or local breweries in their offerings, they may not realize that this neither. Some people may select what they think is a craft beer, as they to want to support similarly, or because they feel they are getting a craft brewed product, not realizing that in reality, they are supporting the big boys. Hence BA’s stance on transparency.

  • Montanaandy

    The Bigs dominate distribution and retail shelf space and so more often than not someone just beginning to sample craft beer will encounter a wall of Blue Moon, Shock Top, etc. and will often not realize that this is put out by a subsidiary of the Bigs. It is not that the beer is not good or that they should not purchase it – rather it is a truth in labeling argument. Let the consumer know that the beer is brewed by a subsidiary of the Bigs and allow them to then make an informed decision as to whether they want their dollars going to the Bigs or whether they want to support a smaller independent craft brewer. I will agree that the issue of adjunct use and categorization of such users as non-craft was a bit of a stretch…

  • Decraft

    I think the BA and by extension many craft brewers are being extremely obnoxious about this. They are relying on a title rather than being comfortable with the liquid in the bottle. The truth is every one of them wants to be as big as they can be and sell as much as they can.

  • sam k

    I was insulted as soon as I saw our honestly “traditional” American regional breweries cast in the same light as the evasive bigs, and I remain so.

    There was a time not too awfully long ago when the only alternatives to mainstream adjunct lagers were brews like Yuengling’s Lord Chesterfield ale, Stegmaier porter and Ballantine IPA. Where we might have gotten without their long-term persistence is questionable, and they came from breweries that are now “officially” on the outside looking in.

    I love craft beer, but will henceforth turn my back on the Brewers Association, much as they have done to their eminently more traditional and much-longer established regional brethren, for whom I have immense respect.

    This position is shameful.