The Independent Brewers Association has stepped up its campaign to promote independence in brewing with the launch of a new ‘Seal of Independence’.
The association, which last year changed its name from the Craft Beer Industry Association to the Independent Brewers Association, says it hopes that the launch of the seal will help shift consumer demand away from ’industrialised’ beer to locally owned independent products.
“We want to educate all beer consumers, especially those who still consume industrialised beer made by massive multinational corporations, to ensure that they understand the variety, quality and emotional engagement that beer made by local independent breweries offers,” IBA board member Will Tatchell said.
“The trend towards locally-brewed, hand-crafted beer made by small independent breweries is not a fad, it is a fundamental shift on a global scale that is bigger than just beer and more so about the stories behind the product.”
Similar marks of independence have already been launched overseas, with the US Brewers Association recently launching its own Independent Craft Brewer Seal. Since the launch of that brand, 50 per cent of US craft brewers have adopted that mark. The IBA, which says 50 per cent of eligible craft brewers are members of the association, has set the ambitious target of having 90 per cent of its member breweries utilising the seal by the end of 2019.
The move is designed to reinforce a point of difference for independent brewers in the face of the growing number of labels created or purchased by large multinational brewers. The suggestion is that the consumers care about provenance but are confronted with a wide number of brands designed to look other than owned by the large breweries.
Big brewer’s response
In the US, the Independence seal has seen some disquiet caused among larger brewers, who have worked to shift the discussion to flavour and not ownership. When the US Brewers Association launched its label, Anheuser-Busch’s craft division, The High End, launched a video attacking the seal.
“At the end of the day, the beer does the talking, not the label on the package, and the consumer makes up their own mind. The problem is that the BA [Brewers Association] continues to refuse to let the consumer make up their own mind and tries to make it up for them,” said Garret Wales from Oregon’s 10 Barrel Brewing’s in the video.
“They have a little bottle that someone told me ‘that’s what I have to buy’ because there is a bottle on the six packs, but that doesn’t mean shit to me.”
10 Barrel Brewing was purchased by AB InBev in 2014.
More recently, Pete Coors Pete Coors, the chairman of Molson Coors’ board of directors, criticised the Brewers Association in an open letter.
“The leadership of the Brewers Association does a great disservice to the entire beer value chain by attempting to pit one part of the industry against another,” Coors wrote.
“You undermine your credibility by pitting us against one another to the ultimate detriment of the entire beer industry,”
Coors was responding to comments made at the recent Craft Brewers Conference in Nashville, where Brewers Association chairman of the board Eric Wallace said big brewers were “out to eat our collective lunch and take your kids’ lunch money as well”.
“The many faux craft, crafty, captive, capitulated and acquired brands are weapons in the arsenal of the big breweries and used to control as much of the market as possible,” Wallace said.
Wallace’s remarks were echoed by Dogfish Head founder Sam Calagione at a recent trade forum when he said consumers deserve to know who makes a beer.
“They deserve to know and then if they don’t give a shit once they know that, and they want to buy a beer based on [whether] they like the label or the flavor or whatever, [they] at least know where the money of that brand is going, [and] where it’s coming from,” Calagione said.
While there appears to be overwhelming support for the idea of a label signifying independence, the design unveiled seems to have underwhelmed some brewers.
“I love that we now have this but surely the IBA could’ve spent a few bucks on a graphic designer,” posted one small brewer in an online discussion that sums up the early reaction.
The focus on terms such as the undefined ‘industrialised beer’ is also fraught. In the early days of craft brewing notions such as ‘traditional’ brewing was seen as a reaction to the use of modern brewing techniques such as adjuncts, enzymes and extracts by larger brewers, with the practices seen as industrial. However, as the small brewing industry has grown, an increasing number of small brewers have embraced the efficiencies and control that such techniques bring. With ‘independence’ focusing on ownership and control of the beer market, introducing it as a means to oppose the nebulous concept of ‘industrial’ has the potential to cloud the issue in the consumers minds as it introduces a qualitative value of the beer itself.
Brewers venues and consumers are being encouraged to embrace the seal and can learn more at Askforindiebeer.com.au.