What exactly is craft beer?

Find out what defines a craft brewer compared to a non-craft brewer.

As craft beer sales continue to grow at unprecedented rates and what were once small breweries produce more and more beer to keep pace with demand, some people may wonder- what differentiates a craft beer from any other beer? Moreover, what defines a craft brewer compared to a non-craft brewer?

After months of painstaking research and taste tests, I have found that there may not be one agreed-upon definition. Although an exact definition is nebulous, the Brewers Association (BA), the major U.S. organization “of brewers, for brewers, and by brewers”, suggest that craft beer must be small, independent, and traditional. While the definition of a small brewery has changed over the past few years, it used to be two million barrels or less, currently, annual production must be six million barrels or 186 million gallons of beer or less.

The second requirement is that the brewery is independent. The BA defines independent as “…less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled (or equivalent economic interest) by an alcoholic beverage industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.” Phil Howard, Associate Professor at Michigan State University, and Ginger Ogilvie (2011) demonstrate the somewhat surreptitious concentration in the U.S. Beer Industry with a series of Michigan State University Hops News Facebook page for up to date information.


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