What exactly is craft beer? And, is craft beer better, by definition, than non-craft beer? Is it just a fad to call beer craft, or does it actually mean something substantial? The answers to these questions are at stake, according to a current dispute between the Widmer Brothers Brewery, and the Brewer’s Association over the meaning of the term craft beer.
Widmer Brothers Brewery began in Portland, Oregon with brothers Kurt and Rob Widmer trying their hand at home brewing in 1979. In 1984, they quit their day jobs and decided to brew full-time, opening a business that produced two basic beers: a German ale, and a wheat beer. In 1986, local Dublin Pub commissioned the brothers to craft a beer especially for the pub — they offered an unfiltered version of their wheat beer, and it became very popular. In 1986, Widmer Brothers introduced an Oktoberfest beer, and became the first American brewery to offer seasonal beers for all four seasons. They began bottling in 1996, and have enjoyed success since then.
Widmer Brothers considers themselves a craft brewery. As are many breweries, Widmer Brothers are members of the Brewers Association, a US-based group of brewers who act to promote beer enjoyment, and brewery business, in the US. They are also members of the Craft Brew Alliance, another group that supports the efforts of craft brewers. But the Anheuser-Busch InBev company owns 32% of Widmer Brothers. As you may know, Anheuser-Busch InBev is a massive corporation that is based in Belgium and Brazil. They produce such beverages as Budweiser, Bud Light, Corona, Stella Artois, and others. The company is not exactly known for its fine, craft beers, preferring to mass produce low-rated beers for profit. The issue has arisen because, according to the rules of the Brewers Association, any brewery, 25% of which or more, is owned by a big brewery, cannot be deemed a craft brewery.
Of course, the devil’s in the details. What exactly are the definitions of craft brewery and big brewery? Ah, there’s the rub! There really is no official, universal definition. Of course the Brewers Association has defined the terms as 25%, but really, what makes beer craft, and what makes it big? I suppose that almost every beer drinker has his or her own definition. Generally speaking, using the understanding of brewers themselves and beer aficionados, a craft beer is beer that is brewed and designed to appeal to the discriminating consumer, brewed in small batches and in a small scale, and brewed with high-quality ingredients, artistic and scientific skill, and for the purpose of quality and flavor, over mass sales.
But the question remains, does the fact that a big brewer owns a certain percentage of a smaller brewery, mean that the smaller brewery is no longer a craft brewery? Judging only by size, of course it does. But judging by quality and craftsmanship, then it does not. After all, money is money, and investment is one thing. But what makes a beer really good and of a high quality, and thus craft, really depends on who brews it, how it is brewed, and most importantly, why it is brewed. And in my opinion, Widmer Brothers produce very good, quality beer, and can definitely be considered a craft brewer. What do you think?
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