Massachusetts retailer’s open letter to Brewers Association regarding ‘craft’ definition

no crap beer logo squarePress Release:

(Boston, MA) – After deciding to put Narragansett’s brews back on shelves nearly two weeks ago, the Craft Beer Cellar released a statement indicating that they would also send a letter to the Brewers Association requesting a more modern and inclusive definition of craft brewer. The letter is reproduced below.

January 18, 2013
Brewers Association
P.O. Box 1679
Boulder, CO 80306

Dear Brewers Association Board Members,

On January 1, we made the decision to stop carrying beer made by Narragansett, Magic Hat, MacTarnahan’s, Butte Creek, Pyramid, and Mendocino breweries because they no longer met the Brewers Association’s definition of what it means to be a craft brewer. We chose to adopt the Brewers Association’s definition of a craft brewer into our business model when we opened in 2010 because we believe in, respect, and align with your mission “to promote and protect small and independent American brewers, their craft beers and the community of brewing enthusiasts.”

After making this decision, we received a lot of commentary and feedback from our customers, local brewers, and beer geeks in the community, surrounding the definition of “traditional.” Understandably, some were disappointed that we chose to stop carrying Rhode Island’s Narragansett, though most were confused (rightly so) about the rationale. Narragansett’s flagship product, Narragansett Lager, is an adjunct brew that accounts for the majority of its sales and yes, as an adjunct beer, it is brewed with corn and rice.

The current portion of the traditional definition says: “A brewer who has either an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands) or has at least 50% of its volume in either all malt beers or in beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor.” We feel that the phrase, “beers which use adjuncts to enhance rather than lighten flavor,” is subjective because it assumes that someone (the Brewers Association, presumably) can determine what the intention of the brewer is when using adjunct ingredients. And more specifically, when certain adjunct ingredients are used in a lighter style lager, it tends to remind us of brewers doing so in hopes of beating their competition (by way of lowering their financial investment) or cheating their customers (by not being honest about their ingredients).

We agree that brewers who use adjuncts to lighten color, lessen flavor, and lower costs aren’t craft. However, we do believe that adjuncts can be used in a way that is still considered craft—that is, to experiment with styles where the use of adjuncts like rice, corn, or barley is what the brewer opts to use in order to create a specific flavor profile. It may not be a flavor profile we personally prefer, but that’s irrelevant! We believe that penalizing age-old breweries like Narragansett or Yuengling, who create beer using original recipes, is not in the best interest of furthering the [craft] beer movement. No one knows the intent of these original brewers from the late 19th century. Maybe these recipes were intended to lessen flavor, or maybe they were just making good use of grains they had access to at the time.

The definition of a craft brewer has changed before, and we only hope to see it slightly amended again. The foundation of our community is ever-changing, continually growing, and getting stronger each and every day. And the single most important aspect of what this community has always been about to us is not only great beer, but also a kind spirit and the ability to stick together and remain inclusive. In doing so, we’ve gained so much momentum! This is why we have decided to put Narragansett back on our shelves—they’re part of our community, they’re small and independent, for sure, and we think their means of traditional is acceptable.

We respectfully request that the Brewers Association’s definition of a “traditional” craft brewer be updated in a way that’s more modern and inclusive of all small and independent brewers. For example, “Traditional: A brewer who has either a) an all malt flagship (the beer which represents the greatest volume among that brewers brands), b) an historic recipe, c) 50% of its volume in all malt beers, or in d) beer made with non-traditional adjuncts (vanilla, rye, pumpkin, etc.), they are intended to enhance flavor.

As one of the links between brewers and consumers, we wanted to share our thoughts with you all in the spirit of collaboration, conversation, and working toward keeping craft cohesive.

Cheers,
Craft Beer Cellar
cc Charlie Papazian

Craft Beer Cellar opened in November 2010 by ex-restaurateurs Kate Baker and Suzanne Schalow and offers more than 800 craft, micro, and artisanal beers from the United States and beyond. With a mission to change the world, one craft beer at a time, you can most always find them in Belmont, unpacking boxes and researching the latest and greatest craft brews.

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