As anticipated, 2017 has shaped up to be one of the most intriguing years yet in the ongoing battle between “craft beer” and “big beer.” We’ve seen the craft community revolt over brewery buyouts, controversy over some of big beer’s interesting investment choices, and the Great American Beer Festival box out the big boys from sponsorships—just to name a few of this year’s headlines. Now, the craft beer trade group the Brewers Association has announced it really wants to put its stamp on what is and isn’t a craft beer—literally. On June 27, the BA introduced an official “independent craft brewer seal,” a logo that brewers can add to their packaging to identify themselves as a true “craft brewer” as defined by the Brewers Association.
“As Big Beer acquires former craft brands, beer drinkers have become increasingly confused about which brewers remain independent,” said Bob Pease, president & CEO of the Brewers Association in a statement. “Beer lovers are interested in transparency when it comes to brewery ownership. This seal is a simple way to provide that clarity—now they can know what’s been brewed small and certified independent.”
According to the BA, this new seal will be “available for use free of charge by any of the more than 5,300 small and independent American craft brewers that have a valid TTB Brewer’s Notice, meet the BA’s craft brewer definition, and sign a license agreement.” That goes for BA members and non-members alike.
Of course, the seal only works if brands use it, but the BA seems to be off to a good start. Since this morning’s launch, over 370 brewers have already signed the license agreement to begin using the seal. That includes all 17 of the brewery representatives on the BA’s board—big names like Allagash, Bell’s, Brooklyn, Boston Beer, Left Hand, Odell and Stone. Expect to start seeing the seal on websites as soon as today and on packing as it hits store shelves over the next weeks and months.
Though the idea of adding a seal on packaging may seem a bit on the nose, deals have been happening at such a rapid clip these days, it can be tricky to follow who owns what. Over the past few years, some of the most beloved and best known names in craft have gotten intertwined with larger entities, brands like Lagunitas, Ballast Point and Founders (owned by Heineken, owned by Constellation Brands, and minority-owned by Mahou-San Miguel, respectively). Meanwhile, Anheuser-Busch has scooped up so many small former-craft brands it’s hard to even keep count. (I believe the number is at ten.)
But at the same time, as the craft beer landscape has become more complicated, so too has the Brewers Associations definition of what a craft brewer really is. As its stands right now (and it has been tweaked many times over the years), a BA-defined “craft brewer” must be “small” (producing less than 6 million barrels), “independent” (no more than 25 percent outside ownership) and “traditional” (a somewhat vaguer stipulation intended to box out “flavored malt beverages” and other stuff that doesn’t really feel like good beer).
“We have been working on this for over a year,” Pease told Brewbound about the new seal. “Our goal is to differentiate but not denigrate.” The logo certainly helps draw a line in the sand—or, more so, a rectangle on the can.
This story originally appeared on Foodandwine.com.