“Craft beer” faces an identity crisis as Great American Beer Festival arrives in Denver

Written by Ryan Makinster on October 2, 2017

Colorado-based Brewers Association makes aggressive push for new “independent craft brewer” seal of approval

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Five years ago, when Black Shirt Brewing opened, it was the only craft brewery in its immediate neighborhood.

Soon it became a Denver landmark as the documentary “Crafting a Nation” portrayed its founders as some of the revolutionaries challenging the beer industry status quo.

Now, a dozen breweries crowd the River North area — including two owned by international beer companies. Owner Branden Miller said each time another opened “we were holding our breath wondering if this was going to be the thing that killed us.”

The fear of big beer’s entry into the craft market is familiar to the brewers who will gather this week in Denver for the Great American Beer Festival, the largest in the nation.

The acquisition of craft brewers by beer giants Anheuser-Busch InBev, MillerCoors and others is creating an identity crisis in the industry and rendering the term “craft beer” obsolete.

“They basically tried to steal our terms, how we self-defined ourselves,” said Chris Black, the owner of Falling Rock Tap House in Denver and the former chairman of the now-defunct Association of Brewers. Now, he said, “those are terms that don’t really have the impact of what they were intended for.”

The Boulder-based Brewers Association recognized the problem this yearwhen it debuted a new seal that certifies “independent craft brewers.” And it plans a major push this week at the three-day festival at the Colorado Convention Center.

The campaign to redefine craft beer represents the most aggressive push from the trade association since 2011, when Anheuser-Busch bought Goose Island, a small Chicago brewer, and ignited the current beer war. The largest beer companies now own stakes in dozens of craft breweries.

“We think it’s necessary because we think the beer drinker has a right to know who’s behind the brands that they are supporting or purchasing,” said Bob Pease, the president and CEO of the Brewers Association.

In Colorado, where beer is part of the state’s ethos and a major industry that employs thousands, the implications are significant. The state hosts more than 300 craft breweries with an annual economic impact of $3 billion in 2016, according to new association numbers.

And it is home to operations for the two largest beer companies, with Coors in Golden and Anheuser-Busch in Fort Collins. The Beer Institute, which represents the largest brewers, estimates a $15 billion economic footprint in the state.

How the Brewers Association’s effort will affect the marketplace remains uncertain, according to analysts, particularly given the massive advertising dollars already spent by big beer companies to disparage craft beer.

Kyle Leingang, an attorney in the craft brewing industry who was involved in the deal for Anheuser-Busch to buy Wicked Weed, a cult-favorite brewery from North Carolina, said the most dedicated consumers care about the origins of their beer.

But, he added, “there is certainly going to be a lot of consumers out there who don’t necessarily care who owns their beer as long as it’s high-quality and they can get it at a cost that’s acceptable to them.”

Continue reading at Denver Post

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