Craft brewers can better distinguish their products from major producers’ with the new Independent Craft Brewer Seal.
A funny scene played out for me last week, as I was buying beer for a 4th of July party: a couple were having trouble deciding what beer to buy. One of them picked up a six-pack only for the other to reject it — it wasn’t a craft beer, as they wanted; it was produced by one of the major beer makers. They moved on to the next cooler and found an acceptable choice. As they walked away, I just silently shook my head and chuckled — that choice too was owned by one of the major beer conglomerates.
I could see why they were confused. The brand was an established craft brewer, but it had been purchased recently and was no longer independently owned. There was nothing on the label to indicate that it wasn’t craft — unless you were engrained in the beer industry, you’d likely never know.
This kind of confusion may soon be a thing of the past. In late June, the Brewer’s Association (BA) announced the release of a brand new Independent Craft Brewer Seal. Qualifying brewers will be able to attach a sticker to their bottles and cans to certify the provenance of their beer. The seal depicts an upside down beer bottle and the words “Independent Craft.”
The seal is currently freely available to all qualifying brewers. To qualify, a brewer must:
- have a valid Brewer’s Notice from the Trade & Tax Bureau (TTB)
- meet the Brewer Association’s definition of a craft brewer*
- sign a licensing agreement with the BA.
Membership with the BA is not a requirement, though the BA has indicated that a nominal fee to use the seal may be applied to non-members in the future.
Notably, the BA has received written confirmation from the TTB that a revised Certificate of Label Approval (COLA) is not required when the only substantive change to a beer label is the addition of the Independent Craft Brewer Seal.
The intent behind this new seal is to provide clarity for consumers as they navigate increasingly complicated beer aisles. Craft brewers will benefit from using the seal by having their products more easily distinguishable from the large producers. According to the BA, there are well over 5,000 craft breweries currently in operation, each producing several brands. The confusion only increases when a major producer purchases an established craft brand.
By using the seal, craft brewers can better distinguish their products from major producers’ and benefit from the potential increased sales they’ll receive from craft-friendly customers.
This appears to have happened to those two customers who were unaware that a brand they enjoyed was no now longer deemed an independent craft brewer according to the BA. If they so valued buying from an independent craft brewer, that brewer likely would have benefited from having this seal available.
*According to the BA, a “craft brewer” is “small, independent, and traditional.” Meaning, it produces 6 million barrels or less annually; no more than 25% of the ownership or controlling stake in the business is held by a beverage alcohol industry member who is not itself a craft brewer; and it derives the flavors for its beer from the fermentation of traditional or innovative ingredients (i.e. is not a fermented malt beverage).