What’s so crafty about craft beer?

At Venture Cafe, we take pride in serving local craft beers.  After repeating the phrase “local craft beers” many, many times, I realized that a lot of people had no idea what the phrase meant.  In our case, local may be in the eye of the beholder, but “Craft Beer” is actually a term of art and has a specific, though changing, meaning.

A craft brewery, according to the Brewers’ Association website, is small, independent, and traditional.

  • Small means that the brewery produces 6 million barrels or fewer (the website uses the term less, but that is incorrect).  This 6 million figure is new and triples the previous 2 million cap that was set in 1976.  While new resources and technology make it reasonable to increase the cap, this change happens to coincide with the Boston Beer Company’s approach to the 2 million barrel mark.  Boston Beer Company is the largest craft beer producer in the US, with Sierra Nevada trailing at just under 800,000 barrels.
  • Independent means that less than 25% of the brewery is owned or controlled by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
  • Traditional means that the brewer’s flagship beer is made from all malts, or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers, or in beers which use unmalted grains (adjuncts) to enhance rather than lighten the flavour of the beverage.

Craft brewers have distinctive characteristics.  While they use traditional ingredients like malted grains, they have a reputation for being innovative and for interpreting historical styles with a new twist.  Craft brewers also tend to be involved in their local communities through donations, philanthropy and volunteering.  Many of these small breweries have a loyal following and maintain distinctive strategies to attract and maintain customers.

American Craft Beer week is next month, May 16 – 22, and the American Craft Beer Fest will be in Boston in early June.  These and other events have raised awareness of these unique breweries and hopefully will go a long way to keep these small businesses producing the beer we’ve grown to love.

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