I spoke to some local brewers a few months ago about big beer’s raid on smaller craft breweries. One of the best takes on the situation was from Lakefront Brewery founder Russ Klisch who said, “When I was in Los Angeles a few months back in a grocery store, over half of the craft beers on the shelf were brands the big guys have bought. To the average craft consumer that doesn’t have a score card, they will not know which ones are owned by the big guy and which brands are independent since they all look ‘crafty.’”
In late June, 2017, the Brewers Association took a step to eliminate the confusion when the group released the independent craft brewer seal. The logo of an upside-down beer bottle, a nod to how craft brewers have upended the beer scene in the U.S., is intended to be placed on the packaging and marketing materials of brewers who meet certain guidelines. (The criteria is pretty straightforward and includes brewing traditional beer styles, having an annual production of 6 million barrels or less and being independently owned.)
The response from craft breweries who’ve been gobbled up by the big boys was varied, but predictably less than positive. But among the audience it was intended for, the logo appears to be catching on. According to the Brewers Association 1,971 breweries are now using the seal, and it was a topic of discussion at the Beer Bloggers & Writers Conference hosted in Milwaukee in early August.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Mitchell Bushner at The Fementorium (7481 Hwy 60, Cedarburg) with their take on the subject in a press release explaining that they are beginning to use the logo on cans.
“The Independent Craft Brewer Seal lets consumers know up-front that they are spending their dollar with a locally owned establishment that is not part of an international conglomerate,” said owner Kris Volkman in the release. “There is a large contingent of craft beer drinkers that want to know that their money goes back into the community in a very authentic way. The seal release lined up perfectly with the arrival of our new canning line, and we’re proud to be one of the first to feature it on our package.”
I asked around with an informal poll to see if other Milwaukee breweries were on board. And while not all local breweries who bottle or can their beer are using the logo, there didn’t seem to be any negativity surrounding it.
- Explorium Brewpub was an early adopter.
- Lakefront has plans to use it in the future.
- Good City Brewing has substantial packaging inventory they need to run through before considering it.
- “We like the logo and what it signifies,” said Anne Sprecher of Sprecher Brewery. “We’ve added it to the bottle label artwork and the six-pack handles. When you will see it on Sprecher beers I can’t say because we have existing label and carrier inventory we need to use. We do have the logo sticker up at the brewery.”
My take is that the independent craft brewer seal is a savvy move by the Brewers Association, a non-profit trade association that aims at promoting American craft brewers. It eliminates the problem outlined by Russ Klisch when consumers simply don’t know what’s craft and what is not. I’m guessing we’ll be seeing a lot more of the logo in the near future.