Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

April 9, 2008

Beer Diary:

Why Is That One-Eyed Cat Walking Backwards?

The Brewers Association annual top 50 list got us to thinking: when is a craft brewer not really a craft brewer?
by Eddie Glick

I like my beer like my women: pale, strong, full-bodied, and extremely bitter.
Contact Eddie»
So the Brewers Association put out their annual top 50 lists of all American breweries and American craft breweries a day or two ago. You can view the PDF here. Only a handful of Midwest breweries get a mention and here they are, in order of barrels produced:

1. Miller Brewing Co., Milwaukee, Wisconsin
2. Pabst Brewing Co., Woodridge, Illinois
3. Minhas Craft Brewery, Monroe, Wisconsin
4. Bell’s Brewery, Inc., Galesburg, Michigan
5. Goose Island Beer Co., Chicago, Illinois
6. New Glarus Brewing Co., New Glarus, Wisconsin
7. Great Lakes Brewing Co./Ohio, Cleveland, Ohio
8. Capital Brewing Co., Middleton, Wisconsin

Obviously, the first three on the list are not craft breweries. We all know about Miller, Pabst doesn’t even brew their own beer, and Minhas, other than contract brewing Berghoff, makes shit. And, according to the Brewers Association rules, Goose Island isn’t one either—more than 25 percent of Goose Island is owned by Widmer, which itself is partially owned by Anheuser-Busch. If you do look at the full list, you’ll see that number one in the craft beer segment is Boston Beer Co., brewers of Sam Adams Boston Lager, among many other beers. But I’ll throw this out there, just for discussion: is Boston Beer Co. really a craft brewer?

I?m not sure if you can still call a beer a craft brew when it?s made in various breweries hundreds of miles apart, some of which the brewer doesn’t even own.
I’m not talking about the Brewers Association’s hard and fast rules. My point is that the word “craft” in “craft beer” stands for hand-crafted, meaning, the creator of the product—in this case, beer—has a direct involvement in its creation, and the creator’s artistic vision is strongly visible throughout. No one can argue that Boston Beer Co. owner and founder Jim Koch isn’t passionate about good beer. Not only is his company still putting out fantastic—and groundbreaking—brews, he’s been a vocal evangelist for the craft beer community for decades.

What has me concerned though is how scattered the production of his beer, namely Sam Adams Boston Lager, is. I’m not sure if you can still call that a craft brew when it’s made in various breweries hundreds of miles apart, some of which Boston Beer doesn’t even own, like City Brewery in La Crosse. Compare this to the number two brewery on the Brewers Association list, Sierra Nevada, whose owner and founder, Ken Grossman, has vowed to never contract out the brewing of his beer.

Admittedly, even when a beer is contract brewed the creator’s artistic vision can still come through, but there is no “hands on” about it—Jim Koch’s beer is being made by someone else, period. One huge disadvantage to this was made evident this week when Boston Beer had to recall their product because of shoddy bottles. Quality control becomes an issue as distance between the brewer and his or her beer increases. But you’ll only have one person to blame if you have such issues when you’re making your product in the shop just across your driveway.

Now, I’m not saying Sam Adams is a bad beer, or you shouldn’t drink anything brewed by Jim Koch and company. But … is Boston Beer Co. really a craft brewer?

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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