What Is Not a Craft Beer?

Craft beer is a popular trend, but what exactly is not considered a craft beer? Learn more about the characteristics that disqualify a beer from being classified as "craft.

You may have noticed that the term 'craft beer' is thrown around quite a bit these days, but do you really know what it means? What actually qualifies as a craft beer and what falls short of meeting the mark?

You might be surprised to learn that not everything labeled as a 'craft beer' truly fits the bill. There are certain key characteristics that define a true craft beer, and understanding what doesn't make the cut can help you navigate the ever-expanding world of beer options more discerningly.

Key Takeaways

  • Big beer acquisitions by non-craft breweries compromise the authenticity and integrity of the craft beer community.
  • Non-traditional ingredients allow for innovation and creativity in craft beer flavor profiles, appealing to adventurous consumers.
  • Contract brewing provides breweries with the flexibility to meet demand without investing in additional production capacity.
  • Craft beer offers a distinct alternative to mainstream beer brands, prioritizing quality and craftsmanship over mass production.


Macrobreweries are typically characterized by their large-scale production and corporate ownership, focusing on mass distribution and mainstream beer brands. These breweries, often associated with big beer corporations like AB InBev, dominate the market with their significant production volume and vast market share. Their influence is evident in beer sales and distribution networks, which extend globally.

Macrobreweries, such as those behind household names like Bud Light, play a substantial role in the alcohol industry. Their operations differ significantly from craft breweries, as they prioritize efficiency and cost-effectiveness in their production processes. While macrobreweries may not align with the artisanal ethos of the craft beer industry, they undeniably hold a significant presence in the market and cater to a broad consumer base.

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Understanding the distinction between macrobreweries and craft breweries is crucial in comprehending the dynamics of the beer industry, as it sheds light on the diverse approaches to beer production and consumption.

Non-traditional Ingredients

Non-traditional ingredients play a pivotal role in the craft beer industry, allowing brewers to explore innovative flavor profiles that defy the conventions of traditional beer styles. This experimentation often leads to the creation of unique and innovative beers that push the boundaries of traditional brewing.

Here are some key points to consider about non-traditional ingredients in craft beer:

  1. Diverse Ingredients: Craft brewers often incorporate a wide range of non-traditional ingredients such as fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, coffee, chocolate, and even hot peppers into their brews.
  2. Innovation and Creativity: The use of non-traditional ingredients allows small brewers to experiment and innovate, creating beers with complex and unexpected flavor profiles.
  3. Quality and Craftsmanship: Craft breweries leverage non-traditional ingredients to elevate the quality and diversity of their offerings, providing beer enthusiasts with a wide array of flavorful and unconventional options to explore.
  4. Expanding Beer Styles: Non-traditional ingredients enable local brewers to expand the definition of craft beer by offering an extensive range of creative and unexpected brews, appealing to consumers seeking adventurous and distinctive flavor experiences.

Contract Brewing

Contract brewing is a practice utilized by breweries to expand their production capacity without the need to invest in their own equipment or facilities. This method allows new or growing breweries to enter the market without the high costs associated with building and operating their own brewery.

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The Brewers Association defines craft brewers as small, independent, and traditional, emphasizing quality over quantity. Contract brewing enables these craft brewers to focus on recipe development, marketing, and sales while leaving the production, packaging, and sometimes distribution to a contracting brewery.

By utilizing contract brewing, breweries can access a wider range of ingredients available at different facilities, enhancing the diversity of their craft beer offerings. This approach also allows for increased flexibility, as breweries can engage in contract brewing to meet demand without overcommitting to additional production capacity.

However, it's essential for breweries engaging in contract brewing to maintain strict quality control to ensure that the beer produced aligns with their standards and brand.

Big Beer Acquisitions

Amid the craft beer industry, the landscape has been significantly influenced by the phenomenon of Big Beer Acquisitions, raising pertinent questions about the future of craft brewery ownership and production methods. The acquisitions have led to a shift in ownership and production methods, leading to questions about the continued relevance of the term 'craft beer'.

  1. Impact on Authenticity: The acquisitions have raised concerns about the potential impact on the quality and authenticity of the craft beer being acquired. Many beer drinkers are apprehensive about whether the acquired breweries can maintain the same level of creativity and quality.
  2. Debate on Definition: Big Beer Acquisitions have sparked debates about the true definition and essence of craft beer. Breweries like Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams, which were once considered small and independent, are now owned by larger corporations, blurring the lines of what's considered an independent craft brewery.
  3. Brewers Association's Role: The Brewers Association (BA) has been at the forefront of defining craft beer. However, the acquisitions have challenged their definition, leading to discussions about potential revisions to the criteria for what constitutes a craft brewery.
  4. Consumer Perception: The acquisitions have also impacted consumer perception. Many beer drinkers are reevaluating their support for breweries that have been acquired by big beer companies, raising questions about loyalty and authenticity.
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Lack of Independence

Craft breweries, known for their independence and commitment to quality, face increasing challenges due to the lack of independence resulting from acquisitions by non-craft breweries. When non-craft breweries acquire craft breweries, it can compromise the integrity and authenticity of the craft beer community. To help you understand the impact of these acquisitions, consider the following table:

Craft BreweryAcquired ByYear of Acquisition
XYZ BreweryBig Beer Co.20XX
ABC BrewingMega Brew20XX
DEF AlehouseBeer Conglom20XX

These acquisitions often result in a shift of priorities, as non-craft breweries may focus more on profit margins and mass production, potentially compromising the traditional brewing ingredients and techniques valued by the craft beer community. Furthermore, these non-craft breweries may market the acquired beers as craft beers, creating confusion among consumers seeking genuine craft beers. The Brewers Association's definition of craft beer includes the stipulation that a craft brewery cannot have more than a 25% stake owned by a non-craft brewer. This criterion is crucial in maintaining the independence and authenticity of craft breweries and their beers.