Monday, January 10, 2011

Small gets bigger in craft beer-speak

The definition of "small" just got bigger in the lexicon of craft brewing, a change that promises to keep Boston Beer Company in the family of beer-makers embraced by the Brewers Association industry trade group.

The Colorado-based BA, which represents most US craft brewers, announced last week it had retooled the craft brewer descriptor; specifically, for what defines "small," the BA tripled the brewing production ceiling of 2 million barrels annually to 6 million and accordingly changed its bylaws.

The 2 million figure dates to 1976 and relates to an excise tax differential afforded to small brewers. BA folks say the beer world is vastly different than it was 34 years ago, and the change was therefore due.

If it sounds like inside baseball, it is. But there is this to consider: Boston Beer, with its Samuel Adams brands, is forecast to be the first craft brewer (and Brewers Association member) to cross that old 2 million barrel threshold, and thus leave the gravitational pull of the craft beer moniker.

BA folks contend that if Boston Beer – and any other sizable BA member – outgrew the craft beer definition, it would have an effect on accurately sizing up the craft beer industry's market share, now at 5 percent of the US beer industry. Thus, they stretched the sweater, so to speak, so it would still fit the bigger, small brewers.

The BA hopes to top that 5 percent mark over the next two years and would prefer to embrace success, rather than bounce members because they managed to widen their following in the marketplace.

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