When uber popular Asheville-based craft brewery Wicked Weed was purchased by Anheuser-Busch InBev last May, something wicked this way came as beer drinkers and makers collectively shook their heads.
Whether you think Wicked Weed's decision was a selling out or a savvy business move, it did make them beaucoup bucks and brought the conversation of what really constitutes a "locally made craft" brew to the fore.
With everything from soap to candles to cocktail mixers being deemed "craft" these days, there is the concern that assigning such a word to carefully brewed libations means less and less. To the layman, or even the average beer drinker, a Lagunitas Little Sumpin' Sumpin' may feel very craft — and it's not a bad beer. But Lagunitas is owned by Heineken, and at the Teeter, a six pack of Sumpin' will run you a few dollars less than a six-pack of locally produced beer — the kind made by your friendly bearded brewer down the street.
To ensure that consumers know what they're pouring down their throats, the Brewers Association for Small and Independent Craft Brewers, a nonprofit trade association "for brewers by brewers," developed an independent craft seal last summer.
Examine your cans for this bottle
Commonhouse Aleworks proprietor and Chief of Hoperations Hank Hanna explains why the Park Circle brewery has stamped that little seal on all of their products: "As craft brewers it’s interesting ... for the most part we’re all a motley crew. We’re all fiercely independent — the art of brewing craft beer makes us stand apart."
Hanna says over the past several years, the consumer market has really "become attuned to craft everything." Whereas a Shock Top or Blue Moon was a fancy option at your local college dive bar in 2012, in 2018, those clued in to the craft market can't even swallow the stuff.
"The Millenial generation has driven the hand crafted and local first movement," says Hanna. "The macro beer companies are feeling threatened by a loss of market share. They've been so dominant in the beer market, and they're losing out to small breweries."
Hanna says the symbol was created by the Brewers Association and allows indie craft brewers with relatively paltry marketing budgets to distinguish themselves from larger industrial operations. "Just because it looks and smells like a craft beer, that doesn't mean it is," warns Hanna.
According to the Brewers Association, 3,781 breweries around the country have adopted the seal, with 64 percent of breweries in the state carrying it. (Peep the whole list below.)
"People do not like being hoodwinked," says Hanna. "[This is] a push to somehow differentiate/distinguish smaller guys from bigger guys ... it's really to show the consumer we are not one of the conglomerates, not owned by a multi-national company."
And while a double IPA or imperial stout ostensibly caters to left wing hipsters, and typical domestic pilsners/lagers cater to the blue collar set, Hanna says it's amazing how many of these bigger domestic companies are not American owned. When these bigger companies advertise a patriotic, independent-sounding product, Hanna says that if their fans knew where the beer was actually coming from, "they'd be more inclined to switch over."
"There are great craft beer makers who make lagers, pilsners, for the average American, that resonate more with the domestic beer drinker."
So whether you consider yourself a hopspert, a newbie, or someone who "doesn't even like craft beer," if you're gonna sip — sip wisely. "At the end of the day, it's about educating beer consumers to protect small and independent guys," says Hanna.
As of Sept. 6, these Charleston-area breweries are carrying the Brewers Association's Independent Craft seal: