Craft Beer CultureWhat Makes Craft Beer Craft


Though consumers are getting smarter and smarter every day, people are still wondering what is craft beer? It doesn’t help when you throw in other confusing vernacular (indie, small, micro, independent) and then layer in the complicated layers of business ownership (Molson Coors owns Leinenkugel’s, but that’s not often advertised).

So what’s the difference between craft beer and regular beer?

The simple version:

A craft brewery is defined by the Brewers Association as a small and independent brewer.

  • Small, as in, annual production of 6 million barrels of beer or less. To give you an idea, Sierra Nevada, which has close to national distribution produces more than 1.25 million barrels of beer. 
  • Independent, as in, less than 25 percent of the craft brewery is owned or controlled by a beverage alcohol industry member that is not itself a craft brewer.
  • Brewer, as in, one that has a TTB Brewer’s Notice and makes beer

Anything by a craft brewery is thus, craft beer.

The complicated version:

  • Like much of the English vernacular, there is the scientific interpretation of craft and then there is the artistic and subjective interpretation.
  • A homebrewer who might not have a TTB Brewer’s Notice can brew you some homebrew that she calls craft beer.
  • A massive producer of beer, Anheuser-Busch InBev, for example, which also brews uniquely crafted small batches of beer under different labels can be perceived and often called craft beer.
    • Then layer in all the brewery purchases that have been made over the years, the lines get blurred again. Is Goose Island still craft beer?
  • A beer might get called craft merely by the flavor profile. If it’s more than just watered rice, it can be assumed that it was truly crafted, thus craft beer.
  • As of late, the best way to tell if a beer is craft beer is to look for the independent craft brewer seal, but not every craft brewer uses the seal.

This list of ways one can interpret craft beer can go on and on.

As valuable as the specific rules are that the Brewers Association have defined and regardless of how many breweries adopt the independent craft brewer seal, the evaluation of “craft” will always be up for interpretation and a little bit of argument.

There is one attribute that I love about that, though, is that no matter what gets called craft, it nearly always tastes damn good.



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